“You want inclusion,” said Rick Clemens, an inclusion specialist who spoke at a conference I recently attended.
Rick gave one of the keynote speeches at the All Ages and Abilities Autism/Aspergers Conference in Huntington Beach.
I had listened to Rick in the past although it’s been a few years since I last heard him. He comes off as a very positive and experienced person who believes that inclusion is the only way for children with autism to be successful.
What is inclusion?
“Inclusion” means your child is put into a general education class with typical students. It is not a special day class that has 8-10 special needs students (with a teacher and a few aides). Inclusion classes are made up mostly of typical students and maybe 1-2 special needs students.
What is the difference?
According to my experience, inclusion students are those who may have aides and/or other special accommodations but they are kids who can function in a typical classroom. They are generally high functioning kids with medium to mild autism or Aspergers. They may be pulled from class for speech therapy or occupational therapy, but otherwise they follow the typical classroom itinerary. If they have an aide, the aide is there for that one student only and is not a classroom aide.
What about special day classes?
Again, in my experience, special day classes are usually small classes with only special needs kids. They have a teacher and several aides. The kids are usually medium to severe autism and because they are typically lower functioning, they may have other accommodations.
What about Rick Clemens?
What I just spelled out what my experience, but after listening to Rick, I believe that maybe there does not need to be a split.
Rick believes that ANY student can be included. And, he gave out many ways to accomplish the integration of ANY student into a typical class.
Here are some examples:
Talk to people, collaborate, and talk to your child. Rick calls this “priming.” He mainly said to ALWAYS talk to the people in the inclusive environment. And, he said to be prepared. Talk to parents with older inclusion students and with special needs advisors.
Rick suggested to start young, don’t wait to try to include your child in fifth grade. He said to try inclusion FIRST instead of putting it off. Putting it off doesn’t help your child.
He pointed out that there are supports out there for any child. Visual supports, more breaks allowed, an aide, OT items to help with fidget issues, and many other tools that can be added to any classroom.
Allow for your child to advance and grow.
Focus on your child’s strengths and create detailed goals.
How can you initiate all of it?
You can always call an IEP. They are called addendum or emergency IEP’s and we have called one or two in the past. These interventions may be necessary to make sure that the entire IEP team is all working on the same page. (Remember, the IEP team includes the parents, teacher, aide, speech therapist, OT, special needs RSP person, and the principal.)
What happens once we start?
Observe the inclusion process and don’t be afraid to make minor changes if something isn’t working. You can always take a step back to reassess.
Also, allow yourself the freedom to find creative ways to work out problems. Giving a child a stress ball to squeeze during class instruction may seem odd to some, but may be exactly what your child needs.
Educate the school administration, peers, and teachers. Every school should have a presentation about autism. I just believe that autism should not be kept a secret.
Finally, Rick said, “Environments and people change…They are not stagnant. Prepare and accept the change. Any child can be included. I’ve seen it happen again and again. It works.”
To Find Kimberly Kaplan:
www.smashwords.com or Amazon Kindle ebook “A Parents’ Guide to Early Autism Intervention”