Autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs) involve an unconventional way of “experiencing the social world and an unusual pattern of development” (Wing, 2007, p. 23). It is evident that there are many varying views on where children with ASDs should be educated. This debate links to the notion of inclusion being controversial, as it is difficult to decipher whether children with ASDs are truly included in mainstream schools, and whether them attending special schools is exclusive practice. There are many aspects to consider when exploring where children with ASDs should be educated.
Some examples of these are government policies, parental experiences and the perspectives of teachers. Inclusion is a challenging term to define, particularly in terms of education. The Department for Education defines inclusion as a “process by which schools, local education authorities and others develop their cultures, policies and practices to include pupils” (2001, p. 2). Similarly, Polat states that the process also includes the changing of “values, attitudes, policies and practices within the school setting and beyond” (2011, p. 50).
Therefore, it can be agreed that inclusion involves a process of change and development. Koller et al. states that inclusive education is to provide “learning opportunities for children with disabilities in regular settings with other children” (2014, p. 610). Interestingly, this definition implies that children with additional needs should be integrated into mainstream schooling. Polat states that although inclusion has been a common term for more than twenty years, the “struggle to achieve education for all” has been present for more than fifty years (2011, p. 1).
This point highlights one way in which inclusion is controversial, as after so many years we are still trying to achieve a truly inclusive education. Furthermore, the varying aspects in definitions of inclusion also exhibit controversy, as there is still no universal definition of what inclusion is. Following on from the difficulty of defining inclusion, there is also dissension surrounding where children with ASDs should be educated.
Autism is a developmental disorder, which is “diagnosed on the basis of early-emerging social and communication impairments, and rigid and repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests. ” The extent that these are displayed vary with age and ability, therefore an autistic spectrum was introduced to “recognise this diversity” (Frith et al. , 2005, p. 786). Some examples of the difficulties children with ASDs face are apparent aloofness, poor grasp of abstract concepts and feelings, as well as the difficulty to deviate from one way of doing things (Bowen et al. , 2006, p. ).
These examples alone exhibit why there is controversy regarding whether children with ASDs should be educated in mainstream or special schools. In 2001 the Department for Education released a document stating that parents of children with special educational needs should be supported whether they choose to send their child to a mainstream, or a special school (p. 6). In addition to this their document titled Special Educational Needs: Code of Practice, “enhances the rights of children with special educational needs to be included within mainstream schooling” (2001).
Collectively, these points imply the government is trying to support parents and children with special educational needs with school choices. In terms of mainstream schooling, it is reported that schools must make reasonable adjustments and services in order to prevent children with special educational needs from being at a substantial disadvantage (Department for Education, 2014, p. 30). Taking all of this into consideration, it could be stated that parents of children with ASDs have the support to send their child to whichever type of school they feel is best.
However, it cannot be said that these statements are fully and effectively adhered to. Moreover, what is deemed a ‘reasonable adjustment’ is subjective. For example, a mainstream teacher may believe that allowing a child with an ASD to have their own table, instead of sitting in a group, is a reasonable adjustment as it allows them to have their own space. However, it could be argued that this only encourages exclusion in an inclusive setting, as the child is not receiving the same as the other children who are in groups.
Nonetheless, it is a positive that the government is trying to implement support for parents and children with special educational needs. In 2010 Starr et al. conducted an investigation into parents of children with ASDs perceptions, and satisfaction, with the education their children were receiving. Participants were 144 parents of children who had a diagnosis of an ASD, and were currently enrolled in a mainstream school. Mothers, as opposed to fathers or both parents, completed 89. 9% of the surveys. It was fount that 15. % of children had been suspended, and all parents believed the reasoning behind it was the school staff’s inability to deal with the child’s behaviour.
Furthermore, aggression committed by the child was a common reasoning for suspension. However, parents generally felt that the suspension occurred unnecessarily as the child’s behaviour was not dealt with adequately (p. 210). This could suggest that children with ASDs should be educated in special schools, as the staff may be more understanding and better prepared for helping the child with any aggressive outbursts they may have.
Moreover, it could be argued that special schools are more appropriate for children with ASDs as they will be with staff, and in an environment, that is better suited to their overall needs. Consequently, this could decrease the amount of exclusions, which will benefit the child, as they are detrimental to their education. However, this means that parents may feel forced to send their child to a special school, even if they don’t want to, due to the fear of their child not being fully supported in a mainstream setting.
Additionally, this could be interpreted as exclusion of children with ASDs as they would be unable to mix with other typically developing children in a school setting. Starr et al. also found that parents differed on their experiences of how they and/or their children had been made to feel by other children, school staff, and parents. Some parents expressed feelings of fear and prejudice, whereas others described compassion and caring attitudes (pp. 210-11).
Wing reported that the attitudes of school staff, and “their willingness to adapt to the individual needs of children with ASDs is of great importance” (2007, p. 31). In relation to Starr et al. ’s investigation, it could be that the parents who had positive experiences with school staff felt that the teachers had positive attitudes and adapted their lessons for the child as an individual. It is probable that if all mainstream teachers could do this, there would be less controversy surrounding whether children with ASDs should attend mainstream schools.