The Right Teacher Training Can Support Typical Kids, And Autistic Kids, in the Same Classroom
In India, children with autism are very rarely admitted to mainstream schools, due to the developmental delays and poor communication skills that can characterize the condition. A study by a former professor at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Subharati Ghosh, PhD, had revealed that in Mumbai, autistic children had attended four to seven different schools before the age of 18, because schools had turned them away.
When the idea of inclusive education is broached, for parents of children with autism, there’s always one pertinent question: Would the child thrive most in an inclusive or specialized setting? And for parents of typically developing children, there is the question: Will my child be held back in order to meet the needs of another child?
Findings from a new, Australia-based study have confirmed that toddlers with autism can learn as well in mainstream schools as in specialized settings, with no trade-offs for their typically developing peers — given the right teaching strategy.
“This means the extra training and added requirements involved in including children with autism into mainstream classrooms didn’t detract from student development or reduce the amount of attention staff gave to typically developing children.”
For the study, 44 toddlers with autism, between ages 1.3 and 2.6 years, were randomly assigned to classrooms with only other autistic children, or with typical; both classrooms were taught with the same autism intervention method. “… The overall quality of the learning and teaching environment in the mainstream playrooms was exceptionally high and graded equal when compared to the specialized playrooms,” said Kristelle Hudry, PhD, the La Trobe University researcher who conducted the study.
The researchers found that toddlers with autism showed improvements in their vocal, social interaction, imitation, verbal cognition and adaptive skills, irrespective of their learning environment. Parents of the autistic toddlers also reported anecdotal improvements — that they were seeing their children go play in the sandpit, or go to a party, without feeling overwhelmed.
“This means the extra training and added requirements involved in including children with autism into mainstream classrooms didn’t detract from student development or reduce the amount of attention staff gave to typically developing children,” said Hudry.
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The intervention method, called the Group-Early Start Denver Model (G-ESDM), was developed by the team at La Trobe to target learning goals that are appropriate for the child’s development stage by embedding x within their natural routines. For this reason, it is particularly well-suited for teaching autistic young children the researchers said; in early childhood, learning is experiential.
While there is no official data on the number of autistic people in India, it has been estimated that around 5 lakh in the country live with the condition and presumably, the numbers may keep rising as access to diagnosis improves; so, too, will the call for inclusive education.
A common argument against inclusive education is the belief that additional care for children with autism would be a strain on already scarce resources and teachers’ time. However, this Australian model illustrates that we don’t need more resources, but rather, better trained ones.
If this teaching methodology and training becomes mainstream, it might provide one important benefit to inclusive education: making children more accepting of diversity from a young age, and stamping out stigma and discrimination against people with disabilities.