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  • Writer's pictureTracey Lee

Dear Pauline

Dear Pauline

I was disheartened to hear your comments the other day regarding the inclusion of children with autism in mainstream classrooms.  It seems that you are misguided in understanding the notion of inclusive education and similarly misinformed on what creates teacher stress.

Let me help make a few things clear.

Firstly, every child has the right to enroll in mainstream schooling. This is the law. Legislation is in place to ensure that every child, regardless of disability, can access curriculum and learning activities without discrimination.  Again, the law. We teachers, we just call it teaching and believe that this is ethically sound practice. Children and young people come into our classrooms and we see it as our job to reach and support them to ensure that the world of possibilities is open to them. This includes any person with a diagnosis that places them on the autism spectrum.

I would ask you to come and have a look at an inclusive classroom in operation. Who is the AS child? The ADHD? The sad, the angry, the hearing impaired, the non-reader, the dyslexic, the broken? We don’t make them wear t-shirts that identify them by their deficits. Good teachers look for the strengths in all their students and help them build these as a means to overcome the gaps.

And sometimes, some of these kids do need time out and one-to-one specialist teaching. They need a break from the mainstream to avert meltdowns, to reiterate a particular skill or for some intensive teaching or just a quiet moment. But it is a short term strategy designed to assist the child re-enter their class with their peers. We are preparing young people to be able to function in a world that doesn’t have special spaces for them. And the best place for a young person with autism to learn how to adapt is in the classroom with his or her peers.

The often overlooked element of the inclusive classroom is the impact it has on other children. I mean the positive impact it has. Young people are amazing in the support and mentoring they offer a friend who thinks or acts differently. It is an opportunity for learning about compassion, empathy and gratitude.  Of course there can be disruptions; but the chance of a child without a disability causing them is just as likely.

And as for teacher stress. It is to some degree unavoidable; we deal with young humans…they cause stress.  But at the heart of what stresses teachers is being told how to run schools and what is important in education by people who are not, or have never been teachers. Over testing, absurd levels of reporting, aggressive and accusative care-givers, under funding and systemic disregard for educators causes more stress than including autistic students in our classrooms.

The solution to teacher stress? Fund every school properly…not with more stuff, but with more quality people. Schools who engage in inclusive practices should have lower teacher-student ratios and be able to employ more counsellors, learning support workers, have access to community support networks to gain more effective work experience for older students and REAL opportunities for teachers to undertake professional development that is not at their own cost.

Dearest Pauline, over the years you have got so many things wrong but this one is so annoying because at the heart of your poorly researched rant are our most misunderstood people. Autism is not a disease, disorder or dysfunction that should see children ejected from schools and hidden in ‘special’ facilities. They think differently, react differently and require, at times, specialised teaching.  But in essence a kid on the spectrum is still a kid who wants to be included along with everyone else.

So much is wrong with your statement it can hardly be righted in one short blog, therefore I recommend you spend some time in a school, meet a person who is autistic, talk to some experts and think before you speak.

I would be less stressed if you did.

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