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Topics in Language Disorders:
Children and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Inclusion of Learners with Autism Spectrum Disorders in General Education Settings

Simpson, Richard L. EdD; de Boer-Ott, Sonja R. MA, BCBA; Smith-Myles, Brenda PhD

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Abstract

A pivotal element of the Reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act in 1997 is the inclusion of children and youth with disabilities, including those with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), in general education classrooms. The challenges of including students with ASD are many because of the nature and severity of their disability. In this regard, the Autism Spectrum Disorder Inclusion Collaboration Model offers guidelines and supports that can facilitate the successful inclusion of children and youth with autism and related disabilities.

THE WORK of pioneers such as Kanner (1943) and Asperger (1944) graphically portrayed persons with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as perplexing and mystifying individuals. Over the decades this enigmatic legacy has continued. Indeed, in spite of a phenomenal increase in the study and scrutiny of persons with ASD, autism-related disabilities remain an intriguing mystery, including to many professionals (Klin, Volkmar, & Sparrow, 2000). Accordingly, it is not surprising that otherwise skilled and competent educators and school-based professionals frequently report that they consider themselves to be less than fully capable of serving the needs of students identified as having ASD (Spears, Tollefson, & Simpson, 2001).

Children and youth with ASD characteristically demonstrate significant deficits in basic areas of functioning, including social interaction, communication, learning, and behavior, thus contributing to the challenge of educators and related services professionals effectively serving them (Happe, 1998; Quill, 1995; Zager, 1999). Beginning at an early age and typically continuing throughout their lives, individuals with ASD (1) have difficulty relating appropriately to others, (2) present with a wide range of language and communication disorders and peculiarities, (3) frequently encounter difficulty in successfully following and mastering an unmodified school curriculum, (4) have an obsessive insistence on environmental sameness, and (5) are well-known for their atypical and often difficult-to-understand behavior, including stereotypic, repetitive, and self-stimulatory responses (American Psychiatric Association, 2000; Scheuermann & Webber, 2002; Simpson & Myles, 1998). Moreover, children and youth with ASD often have irregular patterns of cognitive and educational strengths and deficits, including splinter skills and isolated discontinuous abilities (Jordan, 1999; Simpson, 2001). Connected to these multiple and consequential factors, there is little argument that students with ASD present as significant educational challenges.

Independent of the exact nature and severity of their disability, all children and youth with ASD require careful individualized planning to experience educational success. Learners with ASD will significantly test even the best school programs. Further, these challenges will likely be magnified when children and youth with ASD are educated in general education settings. Accordingly, inclusion of learners with ASD in typical classroom settings requires particularly careful planning. The argument for such accentuated planning is based on the fact that learners with ASD are increasingly being diagnosed (i.e., there are ever-increasing numbers of these students in public schools; (Accardo, Magnusen, & Capute, 2000), and because there is an ever-increasing trend to recommend them for placement in general education settings (U.S. Department of Education, 2000).

Significant debate continues over the efficacy and appropriateness of recommending students with ASD for placement in general education settings. These often-strident debates are related to the “least restrictive environment” provision of the 1997 Reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This pivotal element of IDEA stipulates that learners with disabilities, including those with ASD, are entitled to educational services in maximally normalized settings that offer the greatest opportunities for contact with typical peers. Of course, differences of opinion abound on the appropriateness and interpretation of this requirement (Kauffman & Hallahan, 1995; Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2000; Stainback & Stainback, 1992). Yet, as important as they are, these debates are overshadowed by the reality that children and youth with ASD, along with other learners with special needs, are increasingly being served in general education programs. Unfortunately, in spite of this trend, few models and procedures have been advanced to facilitate the successful placement and maintenance of learners with ASD in general education classrooms. Thus teachers, related service professionals, parents, and others are frequently faced with the daunting task of designing inclusion programs for learners with ASD in the absence of clear guidelines and procedural protocols. In response to this important need, we offer a discussion of the revised Autism Inclusion Collaboration Model, originally presented in Educating Children and Youth with Autism: Strategies for Effective Practice (Myles & Simpson, 1998). Specifically, the purpose of this article is to present this model and to discuss its use in facilitating the success ful general education inclusion of learners with autism-related disabilities.

© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

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