Autism: inclusion benefits everyone
Changing attitudes towards autism
Having devoted more than twenty years to promoting greater understanding of autism and providing support for families of children with autism, Dr Robert Naseef recognizes that international schools are becoming more inclusive but highlights the need for more teacher and support staff training.
Moving towards inclusion
International schools are moving toward inclusion, as recently reported in The International Teacher Magazine. This transition makes special needs training for teachers and support staff vital for success. In particular, parents of children with autism are increasingly looking for schools where their children’s specialized needs can be met. The Centers for Disease Control in the United States now estimate that 1 in every 68 children has autism.
Prior to the 1960s, the general belief was that children with autism were unlikely to respond to education. Research and practice over the past 50 years has provided us with a strong indication that school-age children with autism can make significant progress. Key building blocks are effective strategies for learning, paired with highly trained and dedicated educators led by committed heads of schools.
Inclusive teaching benefits all
Students with special needs such as autism are often a catalyst for change and creativity in school communities. Including students with autism in mainstream classrooms may challenge teachers to think more carefully about the choices offered to students, the design of the lesson, the ways in which students at all developmental levels can participate in the classroom, and the comfort and engagement for all learners.
Some continuing facets of education that are most important to teachers of inclusive classrooms include behavioral and developmental strategies, play and its vital role in childhood development specific to children with autism, and tactics for building the parent-teacher relationship. Additionally, teachers should have a solid grasp of the STAR program (Strategies for Teaching based on Autism Research). This program teaches children critical academic and social skills, and covers topics ranging from communication and visual supports to social skill development.
While these topics are all of utmost importance for the learning and development of students on the autism spectrum, these strategies are based on sound learning principles and can also apply to and benefit typically developing students. The language and practices of inclusive education go a long way towards responding to the diversity that exists in every classroom.
Some of the challenges for educators include:
- planning lessons that encourage all students to participate;
- helping students reach their individual goals;
- supporting student behavior in sensitive, positive ways;
- fostering friendships and social relationships between students with and without autism;
- adapting the physical environment for students with autism who may have heightened sensitivity to factors like temperature, textures, sounds, and smells.
Making inclusion a reality
I have a unique voice in that I have a foot in the professional community as well as in the parent community, as the father of an adult son with autism. When my son was young, there was nothing I wanted for him more than to be included with his same age peers. I tried very hard to make this happen. Unfortunately, his autism is severe and resulted in his need for a specialized setting. This life experience is always with me as I train professionals to work effectively with children and their families.
Children with mild to moderate autism have the distinct possibility of being included with their same age peers in international schools. Making this a reality is a step towards making a difference in the international community. It is a change that we can all be a part of.
Robert Naseef, Ph.D.
Dr. Robert Naseef has 25 years of professional practice as an independent psychologist with Alternative Choices in Philadelphia. Robert is a sought after speaker around the US and internationally and has appeared on radio and television. In 2008, Robert was honored by Variety, the Children’s Charity, for his outstanding contributions to the autism community.
Dr. Robert Naseef will be presenting on best practices for teaching students with Autism Spectrum Disorders on 8-9th September, 2016, at an autism training event in Singapore. To register or find out more about the event, click here.