Thursday, August 12, 2010

Inclusion and Autism In Preschool

My Vision

     I would like to see children with High Functioning Autism successfully included in the regular preschool/daycare program. I think it's important for these children to have access to the same educational opportunities as typically developing children, and to not be separated from typically developing children. This topic is important to me, because I have a son on the Autism Spectrum, and I had trouble trying to include him in a preschool/daycare program.

My Mission
     My mission in doing this project is to make people aware of benefits, as well as the barriers to inclusion in the preschool years for children that are high functioning on the autism spectrum. Through this awareness, I hope that others will be a little bit more accepting of these children and their families.

How I Did My Project
     First I researched my project, and found the articles that I thought would help me to make people aware of the benefits, and barriers to inclusion for children on the Autism Spectrum. After that, I decided it would be great to find at least one video to support my paper with, and I found a great one. Then I decided to use some personal experience I had with inclusion that didn't work right. I wrote my reflections, then I put them all together for one culminating paper on the subject. The last thing I will do is put this all together for a presentation to the class. I decided to make a video to share with the class. I now know what it takes for inclusion to work for children who have high functioning autism.

Questions I wanted to explore
     The first question I had was, can children on the autism spectrum be included into the regular preschool program? The second question was, what needs to be done to make the inclusion process successful? The third was, Should we try to include all children on the spectrum? And the last, if we shouldn't try to include all children on the spectrum, which ones should we include?

What I learned
     Let's first start with defining more clearly what inclusion is and means. “Inclusion means teaching all children together, regardless of ability level. Inclusive programs celebrate children's similarities as well as their different abilities and cultures. In inclusive classrooms, children with special needs take part in the general education curriculum based on their ages and grades. They are not put into a separate classroom, but rather the curriculum and the room are adapted to meet children's needs.” (Inclusion in Preschool Classrooms)
      I learned that children can definitely be successfully included into the regular preschool program, but you have to have a plan of action to make it work. From my own experience, I found that you can't just plop the child into the regular classroom without this plan of action and expect it to work. While the teachers had no problem with my son Michael, and he didn't really cause problems, there were those in leadership at the daycare who were scared of him. This was a daycare that I had started working at, and I was aloud to bring my children with me. The director, after I had been there, maybe 3 days, I found out was telling the other teachers at the daycare that my son on the autism spectrum was retarded. The director also, when we were putting up a bulletin board in my classroom, told me of an experience that a friend of hers had with a child on the Autism Spectrum. She tried to tell me that my son would grow up to do the same things this child did, which were, he would become violent, and uncontrollable. This director started cutting my hours, because she didn't want to have my son there. On the other hand, there is one child that I read about that was successfully included into the regular preschool/daycare program. His name was Jimmy. The parents, and the daycare director were on the same page, and they were able to put a plan into action for Jimmy that would make his inclusion successful. “Through the cooperation of the childcare director and teacher Jimmy was enrolled. An itinerant early childhood special education teacher from the school system visited every week to work with the classroom teacher on planning activities, and routines, and guidelines that would meet Jimmy's special needs. During the first months, an assistant teacher (payed for by the school system) came to the classroom for a few hours a day to assist Jimmy when he needed a little extra help, and also help out with other children in the class.” (Including Young Children with Special Needs) An autism educator had this to say about mainstreaming children on the autism spectrum into the regular classroom, “I have become a huge proponent of mainstreaming at an early age, and I love working with special needs students in mainstream pre-school classrooms. My goal is to help them prepare for fully mainstreamed kindergarten and elementary school educations” (Becoming an Autism Educator) This is the ideal scenario for her, “A few months into the school year, if I do my job well, an outsider will walk into the pre-school classroom, and have little idea which teacher is the special needs teacher and which kid is the special needs student.” (Becoming an Autism Educator)
      There are many things to think about when you use inclusion as an option with a child on the autism spectrum. One of the first is that you have to make sure that your staff is with you. You need to see what their attitudes about working with children who have disabilities such as autism are. There are many people who feel unprepared, or inadequate to teach these children, and some that have the wrong information about what autism really is, as I found out through my experience. A good thing to do would be to learn as much about autism, before the child is placed in the classroom, as you can.. Another important thing would be to look at what support would be needed to help the child. As in Jimmy's case they had an itinerant teacher, and an extra assistant in the classroom.
      Some things that you can do for the child would be to gradually introduce the him into the program. It sometimes takes a while for a child on the autism spectrum to get used to new situations, and this would be a very new situation for the him. One thing that could be quite important, that I realized from watching the video of a child named Alex, is that you need to be aware of the child's communication style. This child was a nonverbal autistic child. When he wanted something, he went to the teacher, and lead her to where he wanted her to go. He also went and just stood behind the swing, and quietly waited for someone to notice that he wanted to swing. My own son did something similar to this, even though he was verbal, he didn't know to ask someone to swing him on the swing, so he would go and just sit on the swing and wait for someone to notice him. Another important thing to make sure of is that you don't try to do too much for the child. You should always ask if the child wants help, and you could also encourage the child to ask for help. Make sure you know what the child's signs of frustration is. When the child gets frustrated, then it could lead to a tantrum that will be difficult to calm. When you see the signs of frustration is when you need to jump in and help. I remember when my son was young, he liked to play with the regular legos, but he sometimes had trouble putting them together and taking them apart. When it just wouldn't happen for him, he would try, then scream, then try again, and then scream, then try and then scream again. I finally learned to ask him, “Michael, if you want help, ask me for it”. Then he would put the legos in the air and say “help”.
      What can you do to help the typically developing children in the inclusion classroom? The biggest thing you can do is to model accepting behavior. Get down on the ground and play with the child, or next to the child. In the video with Alex, the teacher got down on the ground with him, and played with the blocks, and also got him rolling a ball back and forth with her. When they were rolling the ball back and forth, two other children came and joined in the game, and the teacher helped Alex participate with one of the other children, by helping him to roll the ball. In Jimmy's case, his peers learned ways to help him be successful in the classroom. Also, “Child care teachers support inclusion by recognizing the adaptations that may need to be made in some activities for children with special needs, collaborating with special support personnel in planning activities for children with special needs, and communicating with parents. Through joint efforts of early childhood and specialized support professionals, inclusive early child care classes can be places where children with special needs and typically developing children grow, develop, and flourish.” ( Including Young Children with Special Needs) The last thing I want to address in this paragraph is that, children on the autism spectrum need to have behavior limits set for them as well. If there are no limits, then the child will think that they can act any way they want, and it's acceptable, and if we are trying to help the child function properly in a world of “typical”, or “normal” people, we have to set limits, so that they know what is acceptable in that world. Also, the other children could wonder why Jimmy, or Michael, or Alex are aloud to do things that they aren't aloud to do. It could cause jealousy, and resentment towards the child with autism.
      The parents can be our prime consultants. They know more about there child than we do, and they also know more about autism. They may be able to lead us to good things to read about autism. Believe me, there is a lot of information out there, and you have to be able to weed through it all, and find the correct information. One thing that would be great is if you ask the parents how they answer questions about their child, and how they would rather you refer to the disability their child has. For me, I really don't like using the word “normal” when referring to children, or people in general, typically developing is a better term. When you refer to my child on the autism spectrum, I would rather you refer to him as a child first, then say he's on the autism spectrum, if you have to. Sometimes labels that we give our children carry a stigmatism with them that could be negative. I found that out when the director of the daycare/preschool I worked at started telling all of the teachers I worked with that my son was retarded, which wasn't true.
      I think that the most important thing I learned came from the article, Including Young Children with Special Needs is, “Collaboration is the cornerstone to effective inclusive programs: Successful programs have teachers that communicate with one another, hold similar philosophies of early childhood education or have respect for different philosophies, and plan together. In Jimmy's program, the early childhood teacher met weekly with the itinerant teacher to discuss Jimmy's program and plan activities, while the assistant teacher helped out in the classroom.” (Including Young Children with Special Needs) I also learned that, “Specialized instruction is an important component of inclusion: Full inclusion requires that specialized instruction and support be provided as necessary to meet the special needs of children with disabilities. Specialized instruction can be delivered through a variety of effective strategies, many of which can be embedded in ongoing classroom activities. For Jimmy, the itinerant teacher planned activities with the early childhood teacher that would occur every day. For example, to address Jimmy's goal of putting on his coat, he was given assistance (by an adult or peer) before going outside to play or leaving to go home. The teacher gave Jimmy the least assistance necessary for him to be successful on the task, which led to his independently getting dressed during these transition times.” (Including Young Children with Special Needs)
      In all of my reading, I'm convinced that most children on the autism spectrum that are high functioning can be successfully included in the regular preschool program. I am not so sure about children who are more severely affected by autism. I would think that they would need much more specialized attention than what regular preschool program could offer.

No comments:

Post a Comment