Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates with and relates to others and the world around them.
Autism is a spectrum disorder. The autism spectrum includes children with severe learning disabilities who have little or no verbal communication, through to those with an average or high IQ, including those with a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome.
This wide spectrum of needs requires a wide spectrum of educational provision, including mainstream schools, special schools, specialist units attached to mainstream schools and residential provision.
Inclusion is about the quality of a child's experience. How a child develops his or her skills, participates in the life of the school and learns and plays with children from a range of backgrounds. Many children on the autism spectrum can be supported to play a full role in mainstream schools. However, some children will be able to have a more inclusive experience in a specialist setting.
The principle of inclusion should not be confused with the terms 'integration' or 'mainstreaming' which describe a situation where the child is placed in mainstream education and expected to adapt to the curriculum and classroom environment. For inclusion to take place, educational provision must be adapted according to the pupil's individual needs. The child's needs should be the starting point for identifying what type of school they should attend and the support they need in that setting.
Whatever the setting, educational provision for autistic children needs to be appropriately resourced. All mainstream schools should expect to teach children on the autism spectrum, and have the understanding, resources, training and specialist support to meet their needs. Where training and resource needs are not met, the principle of inclusion is undermined.
The National Autistic Society believes that special schools contain a wealth of skills and expertise, and that they continue to have an important role to play. Special schools play a key role in educating children with more complex needs, and working in partnership with mainstream schools to support greater inclusion.
The Government's policy of inclusion should never be used as a rationale for cutting specialist provision, as long as that provision continues to be necessary for any autistic child.
The principles to ensure effective inclusion are:
- well-resourced and targeted funding
- early identification of need and early intervention
- training for teachers and support staff to improve autism awareness and understanding
- adequate and appropriate support
- recognition of the role of special schools in supporting inclusion and harnessing expertise
- working in partnership with parents and professionals.
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