Despite legislation mandating that students with disabilities receive an education equal to that of any other student (Disability Discrimination Act 1992) the inclusion of students with Special Needs into the mainstream classroom is still a controversial debate in many staffrooms and school car parks.
Whilst such conversations are generally only had behind closed doors, as any opinion against ‘inclusivity’ would carry heavy consequences, those on the front lines are not always confident in their ability to best cater for our most vulnerable learners, resulting in a negative culture of exclusion developing in our schools.
A school close to home is currently struggling to accommodate for a spike in the enrolment of students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). From a peer point of view it seems that teacher attitude towards these types of learners is fast becoming the greatest hurdle in achieving true inclusivity.
‘He shouldn’t be here’,
‘This isn’t the place for him’
‘It’s not fair on him’
These are among the more positive comments to be heard from the mouths of teachers and Teacher Aids in the past few months.
One particular child who lives with a co-morbid diagnosis, presents with a range of violent and unsafe behaviours and is struggling to ‘fit in’ to his first year of Prep. He currently attends school for just two hours a day, and last week within an hour of being in the classroom has struck a fellow student directly in the face, bitten two teachers, threatened to kill two classmates and kicked and punched the teacher aids.
The school appears to be doing all of the ‘right’ things to promote inclusivity for this child, but I do wonder if the lack of teacher training, paired with escalation of negative teacher attitudes is contributing in some way to this declining situation.
Parents are starting to whisper in the car park, teachers are up in arms at having to be subjected to such dangerous conditions and staff are losing patience. The requirement to ‘include’ this child without the proper training, and evidence based programs in place is fast becoming the reason for this child’s ‘exclusion’ from our school environment. By pretending to ‘include’ this child, we have ultimately contributed to his exclusion. Parents have already turned their backs on him, students are scared of him and despite their best intentions, teachers are fearful.
Who is to blame here? You see the problem cannot be that the child is just ‘not fitting in’, or ‘it isn’t the right place’, but more that the school has not genuinely adapted and properly prepared to accommodate for the arrival of the child. The school was reactive instead of proactive and action plans were being made as situations came to a head. A lack of current knowledge and evidence based practice is to blame.
When I hear people say, ‘This isn’t the place for him’ it drives me wild.
Where do they suggest ‘is’ the place for him? At home? Should he stay at Kindy until he reaches an age at which he is mentally able to cope with the demands of the school environment? He could be shaving before he makes it to Year 1!
Special school programs when they are available and within a reasonable proximity to the family, are limited in space and are often only able to consider Intellectual Disabilities as criteria for entry.
Students with ASD are being left out in the cold. Too left of centre for the mainstream, but to ‘normal’ for special settings. With the prevalence rate of ASD currently sitting at around 1 in 80 students, isn’t it about time teacher attitudes got a kick up the bum, and teacher training programs and systemic funding be modified to reflect this need in our classrooms?