This article made me angry. It asks a simple question, ‘Does autism have a place in the mainstream classroom?’ It made me angry because the answer is obvious - yes. It made me angry for paying lip service to how complicated that ‘yes’ is, and it made me angry because it glossed over the most important factor relating to the question.
Through no fault of their own many Autistic children are placed into classrooms entirely incapable of meeting their needs. Through no fault of their own many of these children are unable to follow the procedures, processes and practices of these classrooms. It is not unusual for an Autistic child to have a learning style that differs greatly from the teacher’s method of delivery. Classrooms are complex webs of social interactions and cultural queues that many Autistic children struggle to comprehend. I fear many children are destined to fail and suffer consequences over and over, simply because, through no fault of their own, they do not ‘fit’ the system.
Here’s the thing though - Autism doesn't hold an exclusive license over these issues. I teach an increasing number of students who, through no fault of their own, are unable to follow processes, procedures and practices; learn differently to the expectations of the teacher; and who struggle mightily with social interactions and cultural queues.
This is the most important factor - mainstream classrooms do not work for many, many students. Some are able to change their behaviour and ‘comply’ with the demands, other’s can not. But, increasingly it is our classrooms that need to change. Our Autistic students highlight the changing needs of learners because we accept that for them it is ‘our’ practice that needs to be modified. We are much less inclined to alter our classrooms for students with the same needs, but who come without the label.
Our Autistic students are the canaries in the coal mine for education. Their needs stand out in classrooms and underline the declining outcomes of modern education. If we are catering for our Autistic students – guess what? We’re catering for all our students. If we’re not catering for all our students, then what are we doing?
Digging, digging, digging.
Photo credit: Hernan Pinera CC2.0