Autism is a principle problem across the globe. For those living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) inclusive social settings and bonds are essential for progression. While the amount of research on how to successfully integrate those with social and behavioral disorders into classrooms and society at large is questionably limited, some conclusions on the most important factors in the socialization of those with ASD have been deciphered.
In the United States, roughly 1.7% of citizens have a comprehensive or developmental disorder that has rendered them with an IQ lower than 70. That means that 4.6 million children in the United States alone suffer from the extra learning and social issues caused by disorders such as ASD (5). While Autism is a wide-reaching issue, it is important to remember that those who suffer from ASD fall somewhere on the spectrum of Autism, making ASD an extremely diverse problem with no universal solution.
The characteristics of the many forms of Autism influence the steps that should be taken to achieve inclusiveness. The many variables of ASD have caused some dissent amongst the medical and psychological community. Scholars and doctors alike have argued over the best formula to aid in the socialization of those living with ASD.
The Importance of Inclusiveness
While the presence of ASD students in public school classrooms is the obvious first step to achieving inclusion, “inclusion is not the same as contact per se. Just being in the same classroom is not enough…Teachers need to have adequate skills to create supportive conditions to ensure that children benefit from and experience full social inclusion” (5). For this reason, creating an inclusive environment takes a lot of effort, which can be extremely problematic based on the importance of peer interaction for children with ASD. For many children attempting to thrive both socially and academically while living with ASD, acceptance from peers can be both a motivating goal and a seemingly impossible hurdle. ASD often causes difficulty interpreting social cues and therefore makes being accepted by peers and gaining friendships much more challenging for children with ASD. This added social barrier is extremely detrimental to children with ASD, as interacting with peers can be a great help in regulating behavior issues as well as improving eye contact and speech abilities. In order for children with ASD to find friends, however, acceptance in the classroom must first be established (2).
Inclusive Classroom Environments
Education is an essential aspect of development for all children, which is why the opportunity to participate and be included in classrooms is essential for those with added social and/or intellectual challenges. “Inclusion is not just about ensuring that students with disabilities have access to regular education; it also includes ensuring that society also recognizes that these individuals have a right to an education enjoyed by their peers without disabilities” (1), that is to say, creating a classroom where students with ASD will feel included and able to thrive is just as important as providing academic resources. While many teachers do not think that students should be lectured about Autism before being introduced to a student living with ASD, understanding is a key component to acceptance. It is important that all parties involved are educated in order to create an inclusive classroom environment where all students can feel a sense of “belonging” (2). Some of the common characteristics displayed by children with ASD may concern other students and lead to rejection. This is why it is essential to create and maintain a classroom environment open to diversity and informed about the disorder.
In order for teachers to regulate how students with ASD are perceived, it is important that they pinpoint the needs of the particular student and deduce how these characteristics may impede social progression. Education is one of the core elements for creating an environment that is cohesive for the education of all students.
Involved Principals and Competent Teachers
Many Teachers find the added challenge of having a child with ASD in the classroom extremely intimidating (1). One suggestion for combating these sentiments is for teachers to compare their unease and stress to the challenges children with intellectual or developmental disorders face in the classroom (2). With the presence of Autism in the classroom steadily increasing, there is more pressure on teachers to understand the affects and conditions of ASD. While it is important for educators to be informed about the needs and unique characteristics of their students, it is not essential for all teachers to be “experts” on ASD. That is to say educators do not need to strive to know every fact about ASD, but should instead work on gaining the base knowledge necessary to help children on all areas of the spectrum succeed (6). While there is rightful focus on the importance of teachers in the development and growth of children with ASD, the role of the principle should not be ignored. Principles from public schools around the country were given a survey as to how possible they believe complete classroom inclusion really is. It was discovered that the more a school’s principle believes in the likelihood and benefits of inclusion, the more likely they are to recommend complete inclusion to teachers. The principle’s “willingness to support” students with ASD directly affects the type of care and learning opportunities those individuals will receive (4). Informed and committed teachers and principles are essential to the academic and social success of students with ASD.
The parents of a student with ASD have a duty to know the details of their child’s specific characteristics and needs, and therefore are the most important resource for educators. Parents are almost always the first level of acceptance a child experiences, and for children with ASD, these figures are even more integral for success (1, 2).
One technique for assisting children with ASD emphasizes the importance of having the support of every figure in a child with ASD’s life. “As schools compete for parental confidence, barriers to learning and perceived ‘learning disabilities’ will need to be removed and preventable ‘teaching disabilities’ must be overcome (5). This highlights the importance of seeing children with ASD not as problems to be deciphered, but as an important part of a puzzle that requires acceptance from all fronts in order to flourish. The Embedded Theory and the Applied Theory are two other “interventions” that have been experimented with to help children with ASD. The Embedded Theory focuses primarily upon active inclusion and consistent feedback from educators, while the Applied Theory focuses more on field exercises. It was found that the children in the Embedded Theory group gleaned more social and language benefits from their program than the children in the Applied Theory group (1). The difference between full inclusion classrooms and non-full inclusion classrooms has also been examined.
As shown, children with ASD in full inclusion classrooms tend to have more friends within school and outside of school, and are also more likely to have quality, long-lasting friendships than the students in the non-full inclusion classroom (3). Another approach is to focus on “Prelinguistic Milieu Teaching” (PMT), which focuses on working with younger children with ASD in order to establish and improve language and communication skills early on in life. However, this tactic is most useful with children who already have a base understanding of language and/or have a less severe form of Autism (7). While numerous studies have been conducted about the different aspects of education and socialization that may help children with ASD succeed, some argue that the research that has been done is not near enough to grasp the issue and make real progress (8), there is therefore a long way to go before true inclusiveness can be achieved.
In order for students with ASD to succeed, the support and encouragement of parents is essential.
While inclusiveness and education for all are the obvious concerns for those living with ASD and those raising children with ASD, inclusion and education about differences is beneficial for all students. Setting up a positive environment for children with ASD is an essential first step to establishing a system in which everyone can “flourish,” as “Understanding and getting it right for children with ASD can be a way of getting it right for everyone” (6). While the methods of socialization for children with ASD vary, it is undeniably important that research into the topic continue in order to create a society in which all can belong and reach for a new level of participation.
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Boutot, E. Amanda. “Fitting In: Tips for Promoting Acceptance and Friendships for Students With Autism Spectrum Disorders in Inclusive Classrooms.” Intervention in School and Clinic 42.3 (2007): 156-61. Web.
Lyons, Jennifer, M. Catherine Cappadocia, and Jonathan A. Weiss. “Brief Report: Social Characteristics of Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders Across Classroom Settings.” Journal on Developmental Disabilities (JODD) 17 (2011): 77-82. Print.
Horrocks, Judy L., George White, and Laura Roberts. “Principals’ Attitudes Regarding Inclusion of Children with Autism in Pennsylvania Public Schools.” J Autism Dev Disord Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 38.8 (2008): 1462-473. Web.
Dillenburger, Karola. “Why Reinvent the Wheel? A Behaviour Analyst’s Reflections on Pedagogy for Inclusion for Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disability.” Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability 37.2 (2012): 169-80. Web.
Franco, Jessica H., Barbara L. Davis, and John L. Davis. “Increasing Social Interaction Using Prelinguistic Milieu Teaching With Nonverbal School-Age Children With Autism.” Am J Speech Lang Pathol American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology 22.3 (2013): 489. Web.
Walton, Katherine M., and Brooke R. Ingersoll. “Improving Social Skills in Adolescents and Adults with Autism and Severe to Profound Intellectual Disability: A Review of the Literature.” J Autism Dev Disord Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 43.3 (2012): 594-615. Web.
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