Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Against inclusion

Many parents and teachers quietly complain that the drive to include special needs children in regular classrooms impairs the education of non-special needs children. From what I know about autistic students, I'd add that inclusion also impairs the education of certain types of special needs children. I'm thinking, in particular, of high functioning autistic children like J; autistic enough to be reading several years below grade level in English class and autistic enough to get little out of sitting in classrooms of typical peers, but high functioning enough to be ahead of most typical peers in math and computer programming.

Socially, he's more likely to interact with peers like himself than with neurotypical peers, whom he finds baffling and who find him insufferable. But there aren't any peers like himself at his school. Instead, the handful of high schoolers at his particular level of functioning are dispersed throughout the city and beyind (many special needs parents taking flight for better services in the subbarbs).

So I like to fantasize about a magnet program for kids like J, in which a 9th grade curriculum would include pre-calculus, advanced programming, and an English class consisting of nonfiction texts written (depending on the specific subject) at a 6th to 9th grade level. (Let's stop pretending that one can get language-impaired kids to appreciate Shakespeare by feeding them simple paraphrases, explanations, and visuals--about as satisfying as "explaining" a joke.)

After school activities in my autism magnet school would include math team, chess team, computer science club, and sports (here, other kids could join in). And cafeteria talk could focus on ceiling fans, transportation systems, baseball statistics, and other topics of popular interest.

Would I be depriving my son of valuable social skills by segregating him from his typical peers? People forget that Zone of Proximal Development applies as much to social skills as it does to academics. Spending his high school years immersed among high functioning autistic peers with whom he shares common interests and abilities taps into his Proximal Development; immersion with typical peers doesn't--yet. If only he weren't stuck in this "least restrictive environment" now, he might be ready for it eventually.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Agreed, Katherine. One reason for inclusion, too, is that schools are being expected to do the things that communities (churches, social events, extended families, neighborhood kids playing together) used to do -- socialize the children appropriately. Parents don't see much opportunity for their children with disabilities to mix with non-disabled children, so they seek that experience in the classroom. Despite all the talk about valuing people with disabilities for who they are, many parents actually want their children to learn typical behaviors to the greatest extent possible, and think this can happen by osmosis (as indeed it can, in some instances). Classrooms may not be the best place for such learning to take place, but it's seen as the only one available.

Anonymous said...

I attended school in a small suburban district north of Milwaukee. Our district coordinated with neighboring communities to provide for kids with special needs. Each suburb specialized in one special need. The newest school, built with ramps and elevators, took kids with physical handicaps, one district took autistic kids, one took blind kids, one took kids with dyslexia, etc. Our district specialized in providing for the hearing impaired. There were special ed teachers trained to deal with each specific special needs population. In our school, there were separate classes for the hearing impaired who could not be mainstreamed and teachers who would provide support for the hearing impaired who were attending mainstream classes. There was instruction for the normally hearing kids as well, to help hearing impaired kids in regular classes, and many of us learned sign language.

Then the courts got involved. The rules now require that each district care for the special needs of all the children within each local school… no more shared responsibility between schools. The result is that each school has had to spend millions retrofitting old buildings, and one special ed teacher has to provide for diverse needs. It also means that kids with special needs are isolated from other kids like themselves and have lost their social support networks. Well intended rules with unintended consequences that have been devastating for special needs kids.

Katharine Beals said...

Excellent points!--and appalling stories about top-down action in defiance of what works best for different populations. The Deaf community, in particular, strongly prefers separate, ASL-oriented instruction for deaf children (though this preference is complicated by the rise in cochlear implantation).