Strategies for Autism Early Intervention: Special Education vs. Mainstream
Special Education vs. Mainstream Classrooms
Mainstream classrooms, also known as inclusion settings, are general education environments where most students learn at or around grade-level curriculum. Teachers in these classrooms typically have a general education credential, and the child-to-adult ratio can be higher, with 30-40 children in one classroom.
Special education classrooms, on the other hand, are designed to accommodate children with special needs, including autism. Teachers in these settings have specialized credentials and training, with smaller student populations and a lower child-to-adult ratio.
Factors to Consider When Choosing an Educational Setting
- Individualized Education Plan (IEP): The IEP is unique to your child and outlines a tailored plan that will benefit them the most. It's crucial to consider the recommendations made within your child's IEP when deciding on an educational setting.
- Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): Federal guidelines mandate that children should be placed in the least restrictive environment in which they can be successful. This principle encourages inclusion for children with autism but also recognizes that individual needs should be the priority.
- Grade Level: Full inclusion in mainstream classrooms may be more beneficial at lower grade levels (preschool and kindergarten), where autistic children can learn from their neurotypical peers and develop essential social skills.
- Academic Progress: As children advance in grade levels, the benefits of inclusion may decrease. If your child struggles with academic concepts, they might benefit more from specialized teaching strategies in a special education setting, while still participating in social opportunities like physical education, lunch, and recess.
- Support Services: It's essential to consider what support services, such as one-on-one aides or targeted teaching, are available in each setting to help your child succeed.
Navigating the Autism Diagnosis ProcessAs a parent, it's crucial to do research and seek advice from experienced professionals who know your child well. Here are some tips for navigating the autism diagnosis process and ensuring your child receives the support they need:
- Address sensory needs: Provide a sensory-friendly environment and activities that help your child manage sensory input before starting ABA therapy.
- Develop early communication strategies: Foster communication by using visual aids, social stories, and other tools to help your child express themselves effectively.
- Enhance daily routines: Establish predictable routines and create visual schedules to help your child understand and manage daily activities.
- Build a support network: Connect with other parents, support groups, and professionals to share experiences, resources, and guidance during the autism diagnosis process.
There's no one-size-fits-all answer to whether special education or mainstream classrooms are best for children with autism. As a parent, it's essential to understand your child's unique needs and collaborate with professionals to make informed decisions about their education. By doing so, you'll help your child thrive and achieve their full potential.