Mainstreaming means educating children with special needs in regular classroom settings on a part-time or full-time basis. Inclusion lies on a foundation that states that children with disabilities should be part of the “least restrictive environment” to support their education and social development.
When possible and depending on their specific needs, children with autism should be highly encouraged and supported to attend regular education classes and interact with neurotypical peers.
Can children with autism go to a “normal” school?
The decision to mainstream children on the spectrum should come after talking to a pediatrician, school official, or teacher and conducting extensive research on the subject.
In the case of Brody, diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when he was four years old, his parents reveal: “We looked into classroom sizes and what kind of environment he would be in. The school we decided on had 23 kids (in the class), one teacher, and two teaching assistants. One of the assistants actually told us she had an autistic sibling of her own, so that gave us further comfort.”
It can be difficult to decide whether regular classrooms might be suitable for your kid or not. Consulting school officials and therapists can help you understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses, so you can make the best decision for them.
“After meeting with other parents of kids with autism, we found out we were kind of lucky. We’ve heard stories. Some teachers don’t want any kids with any kind of disabilities in regular classrooms – they either think it’s a disservice to the kid, because they can’t give them full attention, or they’re nervous that they can’t provide the best care for that child.
Conversely, we’ve heard that there are some people who specialize in autism that think the best place for these kids is in a classroom, as long as there is staff available who are specifically trained for that particular disability.
So we’ve come to figure out that there are pros and there are cons to mainstreaming, and there’s no solid wrong answer. It’s got to be what’s best for your child,” reveal Brody’s parents.
If you’ve clicked on this article, it might mean that you are considering the option of mainstreaming your child but you’re not sure about its implications. Below, you’ll find some of the most essential advantages and disadvantages of sending children on the spectrum to public schools.
Please note that these are general guidelines and considerations, and you should always check with your child’s pediatrician and school counselors in order to make the most appropriate decision for your child.
See also 6 Must-Read Books on Autism for Parents.
Pros of sending children with autism to public schools
- Inclusion helps them feel more self-confident.
Children with autism know they are different but seeing themselves in the same classroom and engaging in similar activities as neurotypicals can boost their self-esteem. There are studies that indicate that early inclusion might improve IQ scores and social skills for children with autism.
- Improves social skills.
Having children on the spectrum participate in regular classrooms gives them the opportunity to interact with non-autistic peers, not just those with disabilities. This diversity is allowing them to learn and practice different social skills and is providing them with a model for appropriate social interactions.
- Better academic opportunities.
Students with autism have access to teaching assistants that help them understand the content presented in the classroom. However, by going mainstream, children on the spectrum benefit from the same curriculum and similar topics. This offers the opportunity to learn things they might not have learned in a special education space.
- Increases public awareness of autism.
Today, autism is not a taboo subject anymore. A lot of people, parents included, have some basic knowledge of the subject. However, there are still many who have never been exposed to the disorder and have a foggy idea of what it means.
By mainstreaming children on the spectrum, public education is increased due to higher exposure and people have the chance to gain more accurate information on the disorder.
Also, students without disabilities can learn to accept differences and gain a clearer perspective of what it means to live a life on the spectrum.
Cons of sending children with autism to public schools
- Teachers don’t have specialized training in autism.
Unlike special education classrooms where teachers are specialized in working with children on the spectrum, teachers in regular classrooms are often not very familiar with autism. That means they will not be able to respond to the specific needs of children on the spectrum, which is obviously detrimental for kids with autism.
- Intensive and focused instruction may not available.
Regular education classrooms have a higher number of students than special education classrooms so teachers might not have time for the intensive training that some students on the spectrum might need.
Tailoring their teaching style to the specific needs of children with autism is not possible as they have a set curriculum and must teach the entire class.
- Tolerance might not always be at its peak.
Sometimes, kids can fail to be tolerant and might reject children on the spectrum due to their poor social skills and difficult interaction with others. This can leave the latter feeling left out or ridiculed, which can cause a vicious cycle of emotional pain.
- Educational programs might not be suitable and accessible.
Although children on the spectrum receive support in accommodating to regular educational programs, they might not always be able to keep up. Their academic results may be poorer than in special education classrooms, which can hurt their self-esteem and make them feel like they are not good enough.
Sending your child with autism to a public school should not be a decision you take on your own. Carefully think out the plan for your child’s education together with the rest of the family, your child’s pediatrician or therapist, teachers, and school counselors. You’ll be better equipped with diverse insights to decide what’s best for your child’s development and future.
If you are interested in learning more about autism, check out these Frequently asked questions about autism + answers.
Photo credit: Aaron Burden on Unsplash.