“Full-inclusive” proponents ignoring evidence & human rights of severely autistic students

Inclusive education where possible but not always.

It sounds counter-intuitive that “mainstreaming,” or “fully inclusive” education could harm a child or youth with special needs. But it definitely can and that it can is not a new idea.

Back in 1984, I wrote a peer-reviewed article for publication in Education Canada about just that potential problem. At that time, I was teaching university education courses, as well as operating a special education private practice.

Since part of my practice was acting as an advocate for parents trying to navigate the Ontario school system, I knew what problems they were having and those problems were at opposite ends of the issue.

For example, on the one hand, some parents wanted their children, particularly if they had physical, learning or intellectual disabilities without any behavioural problems, put into the regular stream.  So, I would help them get their children placed in the most acceptable regular classroom environment possible.  

But, on the other hand, there was a small number of parents who wanted their child left in or placed in a segregated environment based on specific diagnostic criteria, what is now referred to as a research “evidence-based intervention” approach to determining a school placement.   In the 1980s, that kind of placement was possible but by the 1990s, they were nearly non-existent.

However, in the Niagara Region where I live, there was the Niagara Children’s Centre, which continues to this day. So, while there can be huge waiting lists, an evidence-based environment is possible in our neck of the woods. Others parts of Ontario and Canada may not be so lucky. For example, the Thistletown Regional Centre is about to be closed down by the McGuinty Liberal Government in Ontario –with claims that parents can find similar services in their own communities — which is absolute nonsense.

Suffice to say that over the years, exclusive or segregated classrooms have all but disappeared. Why the one-sized fits all approach? In my opinion, it’s all about money and government priorities.

Just as Thistletown is being closed down in the near future, Ontario is spending huge amounts of money subsidizing private wind developers. And, just like when hospital beds or even hospitals are closed,  provincial governments continue to have the gall to say they are doing it to improve services.  

Anyway, it was with a heavy heart today, that I visited Harold Doherty’s website called “Facing Autism in N.B” and listened to his radio interview about how New Brunswick is trying to go to the “full inclusiveness” model at the expense of the needs of students like his son, Conor, who is at the severe end of the autism spectrum.

So, I recommend readers visit Doherty’s blog to listen for themselves. Simply click on the link and then wait a few seconds and the audio will come up. I have no doubt that Mr. Gordon Porter and the N.B. Association for Community Living have only the most honourable reasons for pushing “full inclusiveness.”

But they need to step outside their philosophical comfort zone and realize what it is like for parents who have children or youth who simply can’t manage in a regular classroom environment, regardless of the number of accommodations, enhancements, social workers or teaching assistants.

As Doherty suggests, insisting on full inclusiveness as opposed to making decisions based on verifiable diagnostic evidence is actually flouting the human rights of severely autistic students — something school boards and school districts across Canada need to consider.