Inclusive Education: Right For Some
by Bernard Rimland, Ph.D.
Is there the parent of an autistic child who wouldn't be delighted beyond words if the child would simply blend smoothly into a regular classroom? That is a dream we all share. For a few, the dream becomes a reality. Over the years I have heard from a number of parents who have shared with us their joy, their pride and their good fortune: "Billy has been included in a regular classroom! He is having a hard time adjusting, but he is making it!" But, for every parent whose child "makes it," there are many more who are not so fortunate.
Much as my wife and I would like to have our autistic son Mark be able to cope successfully in a normal school, it is very clear to us that he could not have done so. He has come along much farther than we ever dared hope, and we are quite confident it is because he was always in special classes, taught by experienced, skilled, caring teachers, exhibiting monumental patience, who had gone to great lengths to train themselves in methods which would help Mark and children like him achieve their full potential.
If a child can be effectively "included," he probably should be. Lovaas got excellent results by mainstreaming the most successful of his early intervention group, but only after intensive training. But there is a difference between inclusion and overinclusion.
If your child functions far below the normal child intellectually, academically, and socially, does it make sense to insist that he or she be "included" in a regular classroom? Certainly not, in my view, and in the view of many, if not the vast majority, of parents of autistic children.
Today special schools and special classes for autistic children are under heavy attack by people promoting "full inclusion." What is full inclusion? Full inclusion means abolishing the special educational provisions that are vitally important to autistic children.
Unfortunately, many professionals and parents have adopted the ideology that full inclusion is the only option that should be made available for any child, irrespective of how inappropriate it may be for that child, and irrespective of the wishes of the parents of that child. What is worse, these people have managed to sway legislative and educational policy so that other options are prohibited. A quarter of a century ago those of us who pioneered public education for autistic children struggled long and hard to compel the educational system to provide things that we knew were necessary to the appropriate education of our children. This included, first and foremost, teachers who were trained in the techniques of behavior modification and who understood the peculiarities of autistic children.
In the last issue of the ARRI we published a small article titled "Full inclusion: the right choice?" Our article was based on a report by Simpson and Sasso in which they noted that there was no empirical evidence showing that full inclusion was beneficial. It seems that the full inclusion movement has been so quickly bought by the educational establishment that those who believe that a full range of options should be available have not had time to organize any meaningful opposition. We received many letters and calls of thanks from parents who were pleased to see that were addressing this issue.
Several years ago I received an urgent plea for help from a group of parents in Michigan whose children attended the Burger Center for Autistic Children. I was invited to speak there and made a tour of the facility. I was impressed. The staff were obviously very much involved with autism, the teaching of autistic children and all the details of autism. They communicated with each other with ideas and suggestions and enthusiasm that won my admiration. They certainly had the support of the parent group. The problem was that full inclusion was being heavily promoted in Michigan, and rational and efficient programs like the Burger School program for autism were in dire threat of being closed down.