Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has become widely spread in the United States today, resulting in developing the debates on the appropriateness of inclusive education for students with ASD. In 2014, the prevalence of ASD was one in 59 children, and this figure allows for speaking about the necessity of focusing on the most effective strategies of educating children with this disability (Iadarola et al., 2015; Slade, Eisenhower, Carter, & Blacher, 2018). The purpose of this paper is to define inclusive education, discuss the public education system in the context of associated laws, determine the purpose of inclusive education, focus on individualized educational plans, describe benefits and challenges of this type of education for students with ASD, and mention resources available to families.
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Definition of Inclusive Education
It is stated in the scholarly literature on inclusive education that there is no single definition for this type of teaching students with disabilities, including ASD. Still, researchers tend to define and describe this type of education in their works with reference to the impact inclusive education has on individuals with special needs. According to Odom, Horner, Snell, and Blacher (2009), inclusive education is associated with the situation when children with disabilities “attend their home schools and receive educational services through full-time placement in chronologically age-appropriate general education classes within the context of the core curriculum and general class activities and in integrated community settings” (p. 270).
This definition is also supported by Watkins et al. (2015) who state that inclusive education means the collaboration of individuals with common and special needs in one general educational setting. Thus, this type of education differs from other strategies for involving students with disabilities by viewing these children as members of a general educational setting.
Public Education System and the IDEA
Focusing on the principles of inclusive education in the context of the public education system in the United States, researchers refer to the role of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in influencing the process. The adoption of the IDEA in 1975 and its further amendments changed the public education system in the country to address students with disabilities equally to other children (MacLeod, Causton, Radel, & Radel, 2017).
Thus, “until 1975, children with disabilities in the United States were not guaranteed a free public education” (Hanson & Lynch, 2013, p. 88). Part B of the IDEA was formulated to secure children with special needs in the context of the US education system. As a result, the current variant of the public education system in the United States prohibits exclusion based on disability, and this aspect allows for involving students with ASD in general school settings in the context of inclusive education.
Purpose of Inclusive Education
While discussing the characteristics of inclusive education for students with ASD, researchers also pay attention to accentuating the purpose of this approach to teaching. According to Roberts and Simpson (2016), inclusive education allows for meeting the needs of those children who have disabilities with the focus on the diversity of these needs and avoiding any exclusion. Thus, such participation of individuals with ASD in inclusive classes contributes to their socialization and development.
Slade et al. (2018) further develop this idea stating that the purpose of this education is to provide students with special needs with intellectually stimulating educational environments where they can interact with their peers without being discriminated. However, although the purpose of inclusive education is to address the needs of children with disabilities and overcome the exclusion issue, there are situations when these goals are not achieved because of schools’ limited resources.
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Laws Associated With Inclusive Education
The development of inclusive education for students with disabilities, including ASD, also depends on a range of other acts or laws that have added to the statements in the IDEA. Thus, the rights of children with ASD are also protected according to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, and trial decisions (Odom et al., 2009). From this perspective, the modern variant of inclusive education is guaranteed to students with disabilities based on the laws that promote the creation of a non-restrictive educational environment for children with special needs.
Individualized Educational Plan
An individualized educational plan (IEP) is one of the components of the IDEA that works as a legal document stating the elements of education and services for a student with special needs. IEPs guarantee that children with ASD receive access to general education with the focus on their unique needs, and parents actively participate in developing IEPs to guarantee their children receive appropriate services according to the goals set for these students (Odom et al., 2009).
According to MacLeod et al. (2017), it is very important to conduct meetings with parents and educators when developing IEPs in order to pay attention to all needs of students with disabilities and make the process of inclusion, as well as educational outcomes, more effective. Still, Zeitlin and Curcic (2014) note that there are situations when parents can be uninvolved in the process of designing IEPs for their children, and this aspect can negatively affect the quality of inclusive education in this case. Thus, researchers accentuate the necessity of following the IDEA strictly and discussing IEPs with family members to guarantee their effectiveness.
Merits of Inclusive Education
Students with ASD can benefit from inclusive practices significantly as stated in the scholarly literature. Merits include developing capacities according to special needs, promoting diversity and acceptance, and developing social and interpersonal skills (Watkins et al., 2015). Furthermore, families can regard “inclusion as providing their child with a better chance of a ‘normal’ life” (Roberts & Simpson, 2016, p. 1088). Additionally, while guaranteeing the involvement of students with disabilities in a general educational process, teachers can also apply specific strategies for working with children with ASD (Slade et al., 2018). As a result, students learn how to interact with their peers receiving appropriate support, and they do not feel being excluded or isolated.
Challenges Associated With Inclusive Education
Despite the obvious benefits of inclusive education for students with ASD, there are also some challenges reported by experts. The problem can be observed when educators violate IEPs because of the lack of awareness regarding students’ conditions, the lack of practice and experience, and the lack of funding (Roberts & Simpson, 2016). One more problem is the inability to create a class environment that will be appropriate for students with ASD for their effective inclusion.
Moreover, educators’ activities can be challenged by their personal views regarding ASD, biases, and expectations (MacLeod et al., 2017; Zeitlin & Curcic, 2014). The reason is that general education teachers responsible for inclusive education usually have less knowledge and skills in teaching students with ASD than special education teachers (Roberts & Simpson, 2016). Thus, some of the selected strategies and methods can be ineffective because of teachers’ limited knowledge.
Resources Available to Families
There are also other resources available to families in order to help them involve their children with ASD in an inclusive education process. Although inclusive education for students with ASD is widely supported by researchers, there are also opinions on cases when this approach can be non-working for children with disabilities, and educational outcomes can be low (Roberts & Simpson, 2016). In this case, it is necessary to use resources proposed to parents with children with disabilities, including family-centered services provided by professionals in working with children with special needs (Odom et al., 2009). Parents also have legally guaranteed opportunities to receive consultations of paraprofessionals and counselors when discussing IEPs.
The review of the literature on inclusive education for students with ASD allows for determining some ideas to apply when working with these children: inclusive education is beneficial for students with ASD in terms of their socialization, IEPs should be developed in cooperation with parents, and inclusive education is effective when implemented by trained teachers. Thus, while working with students with ASD in general education environments, it is important to ensure that they positively interact with peers and develop their social skills.
Furthermore, much attention should be paid to designing effective and student-oriented IEPs. The involvement of parents in this process is a legal requirement that can be ignored by educators, decreasing the quality of provided services and outcomes for students with ASD.
In addition, those general education teachers who work with classes organized according to the principles of inclusive education should receive additional special training. This aspect is important to guarantee that students with ASD receive appropriate support and services that address their needs, skills, and capacities. It is important to focus on these aspects because ignoring these factors provokes barriers to the successful implementation of the principles of inclusive education that has proved to be effective for students with disabilities in most cases.
Hanson, M. J., & Lynch, E. W. (2013). Understanding families: Supportive approaches to diversity, disability, and risk (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company.
Iadarola, S., Hetherington, S., Clinton, C., Dean, M., Reisinger, E., Huynh, L.,… Harwood, R. (2015). Services for children with autism spectrum disorder in three, large urban school districts: Perspectives of parents and educators. Autism, 19(6), 694-703.
MacLeod, K., Causton, J. N., Radel, M., & Radel, P. (2017). Rethinking the individualized education plan process: Voices from the other side of the table. Disability & Society, 32(3), 381-400.
Odom, S. L., Horner, R. H., Snell, M. E., & Blacher, J. (Eds.). (2009). Handbook of developmental disabilities. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Roberts, J., & Simpson, K. (2016). A review of research into stakeholder perspectives on inclusion of students with autism in mainstream schools. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 20(10), 1084-1096.
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Slade, N., Eisenhower, A., Carter, A. S., & Blacher, J. (2018). Satisfaction with individualized education programs among parents of young children with ASD. Exceptional Children, 84(3), 242-260.
Watkins, L., O’Reilly, M., Kuhn, M., Gevarter, C., Lancioni, G. E., Sigafoos, J., & Lang, R. (2015). A review of peer-mediated social interaction interventions for students with autism in inclusive settings. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45(4), 1070-1083.
Zeitlin, V. M., & Curcic, S. (2014). Parental voices on individualized education programs: ‘Oh, IEP meeting tomorrow? Rum tonight!’. Disability & Society, 29(3), 373-387.