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Integrated Education: One Way to Help Autistic and Neurotypical Children

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Chances are you have a friend or family member that has an autistic child. Autism is a prevalent enough condition that, chances are, you're aware of the traits of autism through either indirect observation or through actual acquaintance with someone who has it.

How many times have you seen a mother with an autistic child in line at the grocery store and wondered what her life must be like, or visited the blog of an autistic mom, or asked that friend or relative what they really need to held them carry the burden? Well, we've talked with a few women about what they've done. One woman in particular, Dr. Sabrina Freeman, a mother of an autistic child and a life-long, award-winning advocate of autistic children, offers this recommendation: integration.

Integrated Education for Autistic and Neurotypical Children

What is integration? Simply put, it is the concept of including children with autism in mainstream education, as opposed to segregating them into separate special-education classes. According to University of Florida researchers Joshua K. Harrower and Glen Dunlap, it is a topic that has been hotly debated for years. But it is, according to Dr. Freeman, a way to provide a more enriching educational experience not only to autistic children, but to typically-developing (sometimes referred to as "neurotypical") children as well.

She lists, in fact, many benefits of an integrated education for neurotypical children. They:

  • learn not to prejudge the ability of others.
  • learn how to break down skills and teach them to others, thereby becoming excellent teachers.
  • receive much more positive adult attention than they otherwise would in a large group of children, since successful integration requires the adult/child ratio to be greater.
  • look beyond their egocentric world and see that there are others in the world with real challenges, who are far less fortunate only because they drew the short straw in life’s lottery.
  • learn empathy.
  • receive protection from bullying due to the increased adult supervision that surrounds children with autism.

Autistic children benefit as well by displaying higher levels of engagement and social interaction, giving and receiving higher levels of social support, having larger friendship networks, and having more advanced individualized education plan goals than their counterparts in segregated placements, according to various studies cited by Harrower and Dunlap. This is as long as their parents follow certain steps cited by not only Dr. Freeman but also by Doctors Christopher Kliewer at the University of Northern Iowa and Christi Kasa-Hendrickson at Chapman University. These steps include things like preteaching and having an extra aide accompany their child.

More research does need to be done to document the benefits of integration for both autistic and neurotypical children. In the meantime, however, if you are parent of a neurotypical child who has wondered what you can do to help a parent of an autistic child, one possibility is to inquire about the possibilities of integration at your school.

Says Dr. Freeman: "I'd like to see parents of typically developing children to realize that successful integration of children with autism provides their children with an education that cannot be found anywhere else. When given the opportunity, I'd like those parents to say: We very much want to see the child with autism integrated with our children. How can we make this work? Tell us what to do, and we'll do it! At the end of the day, although the children of autism benefit by successful inclusion, I would argue that the typically developing children benefit even more!"

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr.

Do you know of someone who is austic? What has helped that person integrate into society?

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