a challenge to Inclusion advocates relating to students with ASD


The following challenges advocates of full inclusion to interpret and represent accurately research findings that relate to students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or to students with a disability (PwD) when the research includes students with ASD.

I am concerned about claims made for Inclusion in relation to students with autism/ASD. For example, the document National Disability Agreement Forward Work Plan Strategic Direction 1: Children with a Disability have the Best Start in Life Attachment 1 at http://www.dprwg.gov.au/research-development/publications/forward-work-p... and http://www.dprwg.gov.au/sites/au.a4/files/attachments/Forward%20Work%20P... says (page 15):

Many studies show that children with a disability in inclusive settings make greater developmental gains when compared with children with a disability in segregated settings.25 ...

25 Kishida, Y., & Kemp, C. (2009) The engagement and interaction of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in segregated and inclusive early Childhood Centre-based Settings. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, Hammill Institute of Disabilities.

While I don't have a copy of the book cited, there seems to be a paper with the same title by the same authors at http://tec.sagepub.com/content/29/2/105.abstract. I expect the paper describes the same research.

My understanding of this research (I am not an expert in early childhood) is that it does not show "children with a disability in inclusive settings make greater developmental gains when compared with children with a disability in segregated settings". On the contrary, the authors of the paper write ...

Implications for Practice

The results of this study indicate that one type of setting (i.e., segregated or inclusive) does not necessarily provide better learning opportunities to children with ASD. The implications are that the potential strengths of each type of setting need to be maximized and their weaknesses minimized to increase the engagement and interaction of children with ASD, thereby optimizing their learning opportunities. ...

To me, the citation does not support the claim made in the Disability Policy & Research Working Group's paper/attachment. The children in this study are all in both inclusive and segregated settings ... presumably so they can learn skills in a segregated setting then learn to generalise those skills when they are integrated into a more social setting. There is no control group in the study, nor any separation into "segregated" vs "inclusion" groups.

The claim that this research supports inclusive over segregated settings seems to me to be abuse of research evidence/literature.

The research cited seems to me to back a view that I see as widespread among respected clinicians with specific knowledge of autism/ASD; that children with ASD need close attention in a range of settings so they can first learn specific skills that they do not pick up from their environment, then they need help practicing those skills in a range of settings. Basically, Inclusion alone is not enough for children with ASD ... most children/students with ASD need substantial skilled (ASD-specific) support to develop essential skills when they are in Inclusive settings.

It is also inappropriate to claim research on children with ASD applies to all children with a disability. Just as it is wrong to claim research relating to children with unspecified disabilities is applicable to children with ASD.

This is not an isolated occurrence. A report authored by Inclusion advocates and published by DEEWR (see http://www.dest.gov.au/sectors/schooleducation/publicationsresources/pro... ) shows some sensitivity to the some of the distinct needs of students with ASD and says:

... some researchers and theorists advocate a “culture of autism” (Mesibov & Shea 1997) where it is recognised that each individual, even within a particular disabling condition and/or syndrome, has their unique ways of processing the world around them. ... Students are taught to use their strengths to live with their differences, and the onus is often on the partner to make accommodations.

The report references “Mesibov, G.B., & Shea, V. (1997). Full inclusion and students with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 26(3), 337-436” (see http://www.springerlink.com/content/u613750553077653/, apparently it was published in 1996, not 1997). This abstract for this peer-reviewed journal article concludes with a warning that ...

... Although the goals and values underlying full inclusion are laudable, neither the research literature nor thoughtful analysis of the nature of autism supports elimination of smaller, highly structured learning environments for some students with autism.

Clearly, the reference does not mean all students with ASD can be taught "to live with their differences" when/if their "partner" in education just makes "accommodations" in mainstream settings.

In my experience, the above are examples of research misrepresentation that is endemic in relation to Inclusive practices for students with ASD.

I challenge advocates for full and exclusive Inclusion to produce a balanced review of the research literature showing all children/students with ASD benefit from exclusively Inclusive settings; where is the evidence that every child with ASD is better off without any access to services/interventions in a segregated (selective, intensive or clinical) setting? If they do not have the evidence, then I call on the Inclusion Lobby to represent accurately the available evidence in relation to children/students with ASD.

The goals of Inclusion are laudable. Most students with ASD benefit from appropriate inclusion in mainstream education settings but full inclusion does not suit all students with ASD; for some students with ASD, full inclusion is detrimental, especially for students who have heightened stress and/or anxiety, severe/profound disability that seriously impedes their participation ... or students who have been especially adversely affected by their experiences as victims of bullying (an issue that affects many students with ASD and is ignored completely by most inclusion advocates).

There is a substantial risk that pressure to "fully include" all students with ASD in mainstream education settings just encourages/allows education administrators/bureaucrats to deny students with ASD much of the support they need for their education. The most probably consequence would be to make worse the already disappointing/appalling education outcomes reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics for students with ASD (see http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4428.0main+features62009 ).

see also http://a4.org.au/node/743


research: no systematic indication inclusivity improves outcomes

A research paper concludes ...

CONCLUSIONS We find no systematic indication that the level of inclusivity improves key future outcomes. Research on educational and functional outcomes for children with autism can benefit from data on large samples of children educated in real-world settings, such as the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2, but more nuanced indicators should be developed to measure the quality of special education for children with autism.