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Autism Inclusion


Autism Inclusion

Educating Exceptional Students

EDU 6644

Spring 2011

Patrick Moriarty

“Inclusion is the process of identifying, understanding and breaking down barriers to participation and belonging.”

~ Early Childhood Forum (2003) ~

1. Challenges for Inclusion
According to the Autism Society, autism can be defined as:

A complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a ‘spectrum disorder’ that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. (2011)

The “certain set of behaviors” cited are common in people with autism, such as the need for habitual activity and a lack of conformity to change; a repetition of specific activities or movements; and unique responses to sensory understanding (Heward, 2009, p. 258). There are five different diagnoses for autism spectrum disorders (ASD): The first diagnosis is autistic disorder. Heward cites three features that define this diagnosis: 1. the child does not respond when someone interacts with him/her; 2. there is usually a failure in the development of language; 3. there is a repetitive or stereotyped behavior (2009). In most cases, the development is noticed in the first few months after the child turns one.

The second diagnosis is asperger syndrome. With asperger syndrome, the child tends to struggle socially. The child lacks the desire for intimate or emotional relationships. They do not know how to communicate properly through nonverbal actions. Similar to the autistic disorder, they tend to exhibit repetitive behaviors or interests, and have a tendency to fixate on parts of objects. They are also known to have average or even above-average intelligence (Heward, 2009).

Rett syndrome is the third diagnosis. With this syndrome, the development of the fetus is normal, and no signs of the disorder appear until around the 5th month after birth, usually in girls. At that point, the rate of growth of the head slows. There is a slight loss of the previously learned hand skills. Critical language and cognitive abilities are stunted, movement is awkward and seizures happen often.

The fourth diagnosis under the ASD category is childhood disintegrative disorder. Described similarly to autistic disorder, this disorder does not develop until after the age of 2, and can develop as late as 10 years old. Impairments in communication and social interactions are prominent in this diagnosis.

The final diagnosis is pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified. This is used to categorize those children who exhibit some of the disorders of certain diagnoses, but not enough of the characteristics of that diagnosis to be labeled so. Once again, these children struggle socially, have limited interests and have difficulty with communication skills.

With the inclusion of a student with autism in a general education classroom, the teacher is bound to face a variety of challenges. One of the most challenging aspects of inclusion for those with autism is social interaction. A teacher will need to create an accepting community that will allow the student to successfully interact socially while at the same time learn how to strengthen their independence. Finding the time to provide the extra help a student with autism will need can also be difficult. Effective communication is another challenge the teacher will need to learn, understand and teach to the student. Instructional strategies will need to be adopted and adapted to better serve the student. Also, the content and generalizability of the material taught will provide further provocation. And, “while many administrators feel that inclusion will save money, in reality the opposite is true. Well-implemented inclusion usually costs more than separate special-education classrooms” (Dybvik, 2004). With the state of our economy and school budgets drastically being cut, money has become an increasing issue.

2. Philosophy for the Implementation of Inclusion of Autistic Students

First and foremost, as educators we have a duty to educate our students. We should have the passion to educate those willing (and those not willing) to learn. But it is also the “zero reject” principle of the IDEA law that states “no child with disabilities may be excluded from a free public education” (Heward, 2009, p. 19). It is the law for educators to educate every child despite any difference from what society considers normal. In addition, “IDEA require[s] that children with disabilities be educated ‘to the maximum extent possible’ in the ‘least restrictive environment’” (Dybvik, 2004). The least restrictive environment (LRE) means that a general education classroom needs to be taken into consideration first until it is determined the student has needs that cannot be met in that classroom.

According to statistics, ASD is affecting 1 in 150 children (Odom, et al., 2008). If these numbers continue to rise, it will become increasingly important for the general population to have an understanding of how to communicate and work with people who have autism. General education students who have the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from students with autism can only benefit from this experience.

3. Planning Procedures for Implementing Inclusion

One of the first steps a school must take in the implementation of inclusion is to properly train teachers. For inclusion to be successful a teacher must know a variety of instructional strategies and they must differentiate that instruction in order to support a range of abilities (Dybvik, 2004). The implementation of IEPs is also essential in implementing inclusion. Teachers need to be part of the development of the IEP and should be held accountable if there is a failure to implement it. Also, “the goals – and effectiveness – of inclusion must be determined by each child’s…IEP…” (Dybvik, 2004). Teachers and administrators should constantly be reflecting on whether or not these goals are being met. They can then determine why the student is successful or what is working for the student to better support them, or, if the student is not achieving those goals, they can decide how to better accommodate that student. This will also allow the school to evaluate how effective the inclusion process is. Ongoing training for teachers during professional development would be essential for staying current with best practices.

Another step would be to set up the proper support services for both the teacher and student. Well trained paraprofessionals would be needed in the classroom and constant communication between the general education teacher and the special education teacher would need to take place. Regular meetings with the support staff and administrators would be necessary. This means that common planning time would be beneficial. The proper resources would also need to be available.

The curriculum for inclusion would need to be diverse, rigorous, creative and personalized. It would also need to be aligned with federal, state or district standards. The curriculum would need to have strong, fair assessments: formative and summative.

And getting parents on board with inclusion is as important as having them as part of the IEP team.

4. Recommendations for School Colleagues, Administrators, District and Parents

My colleagues would need to understand the student’s rights as well as their own rights. I would express the importance of familiarizing oneself with the IDEA law. I would also want them to keep in mind that there will be challenges, but they have the support, so they should try to be patient. I would want them to look at inclusion as a learning experience for all and if something is not working don’t be afraid to implement a new approach.

Administrators will need to be present; they need to be attending IEP meetings, observing classes and providing support for the teachers. They should be there to appreciate what works and provide feedback and ideas for strategies that are not successful. Administrators also need to hold teachers accountable. If an IEP is not being followed or goals are not being met, the administrators need to step in to evaluate the issue. This needs to be done on a consistent basis, not once a year.

The district needs to provide the proper training for teachers and support staff. They cannot expect students to be successful if teachers are not properly trained in how to educate these students. Professional development is a perfect opportunity to provide this training. Certain PD should be mandatory and teachers should be held accountable for attendance. In addition, administrators need to be held accountable by the district for ensuring the implementation of successful inclusion.

Parents need to be a part of the entire process. Parents need to understand that they should advocate for their child; not only should parents be part of the IEP team, they need to have some voice in how inclusion is implemented for their child. They should communicate often with the special education teacher and the general education teacher and they should be committed to the success of their child, especially in achieving the child’s goals as stated in the IEP. I would also suggest the parents familiarize themselves with their rights and their child’s rights.


Autism Society. (2011). Retrieved from
Dybvik, A.C. (2004). Autism and the inclusion mandate. Education Next. Winter.

Heward, W.L. (2009). Exceptional children: an introduction to special education. Upper

Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson College Div.

Odom, S. L., Boyd, B. A., Hall, L. J., & Hume, K. (2008). Comprehensive treatment

models for children and youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, FPG Child Development Institute.

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