Often there is a conception that when we have children with diagnosed, additional needs in our classrooms that as teachers our workload increases and that special programs will have to be developed to support these children. This is interesting because in my experience, every child in a general classroom will at some point have additional needs be they social, emotional, learning, medical or otherwise. Often it’s the children who are not yet diagnosed that require additional support as their specific needs are not yet fully recognised. Additionally, the strategies and supports put into place to assist our diagnosed children are likely to benefit all the students in your class. Social skills programs, self regulation strategies, the use of visual supports and graphic organisers, sound amplification devices and environmental accommodations are likely to be beneficial to many children in our classrooms.
I do need to say at this point that I am in no way giving teachers a hard time. I’m a teacher myself and I fully appreciate the enormous demands made of teachers. Our jobs are made easier by the input of therapists, learning supports teachers, medical specialists, parents and by our schools providing us with the time, training and specialist support to help us succeed. I acknowledge all of this. What I am suggesting here though is that as teachers we can think and operate smarter by adopting inclusive practices as part of our pedagogy and in this way we make accommodations for many of students across the school day without the need to think of these adjustments as additional work or something different required just for one or two students. In my experience, many of our gifted teachers do this all day, every day without even realising they are doing it!
As a parent of two boys with ASD I have spent many hours practising specific skills such as game playing skills in the knowledge that this is something the boys struggle with. How many times have you come across an average 7 or 9 year old who struggles to play a competitive game with a peer in an appropriate way? I would suggest that many children lack game playing skills. So perhaps we need to teach all children in our classrooms these skills, not just create a special program only aimed at meeting the needs of the ASD child? If everyone in the group understands the language and concepts of being a good game player isn’t it more likely that good game playing skills are more likely to be learnt across the whole group?
Many individuals with ASD are described as visual thinkers – Dr Temple Grandin talks a lot about how she thinks in pictures. One of the key accommodations for children with ASD is visual supports in the classroom – visual schedules, visuals for organisation, graphic organisers, timers and social stories. I would argue again that these strategies would benefit many of the children in the classroom. How many typical children would benefit from scaffolds, graphic organisers, checklists and visual schedules? Even as a tertiary qualified adult, I would benefit from the use of these strategies in my learning environment.
So if we are to truly embrace inclusion, we need to recognise that all of our children will have additional needs at some time. Our children are all similar in this respect. Every day, there are many supports, strategies and adjustments that teachers can use which benefit all of the children in their classrooms. Rather than seeing the extra work that comes with having diagnosed children in your classroom, think instead about how to incorporate fully inclusive practices into the classroom as part of good, everything teaching practice … rather than something extra?