When explaining Academy of Whole Learning to public school colleagues, I frequently get asked how I could support a model of exclusive education. They often go on to tell me that inclusive education is the best model. I usually smile in response and completely agree with them. And then I go on to explain that inclusive education is the best model, which is why Academy of Whole Learning provides an inclusive atmosphere for all our students with learning differences.
The term inclusion is a relatively new philosophical interpretation of Least Restrictive Environment. Interestingly, the term does not appear in the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The origin of inclusion came from a joint meeting in 2009 of the National Association for the Education for Young Children (NAEYC) and the CEC’s Division for Early Childhood (DEC). They issued a statement identifying the features of high-quality inclusion: “a sense of belonging and membership, positive social relationships and friendships, and development and learning” (DEC/NAEYC, 2009, p. 2). The driving forces should be participation, social relationships, and learning outcomes. The thought behind the word inclusion should be more than physical placement of children with disabilities in the same classroom as those without.
The controversial part of inclusion is found in several key studies. One such study found that parents of students in public school inclusion classes voiced a greater degree of concern with their children’s school programs; parents and teachers of the students in the inclusion classes described more occasions of behavior problems; students in inclusion classes reported lower levels of self-esteem and that while students in inclusion classes were more likely to experience gains in reading, no notable improvement for mathematics, language, or spelling were found (Daniel, 1997). Benefits of inclusion are especially lacking for students with autism spectrum disorder.
Students with ASD need to learn what is just intuitively grasped by the neurotypical student. Batten, Corbett, Rosenblatt, Withers & Yuille (2006) found that inclusion programs for students with autism spectrum disorder into classrooms with non-disabled students were detrimental to the ASD student. They found that the content and teaching practices in regular education schools were not changed to accommodate students with ASD. They found that teachers, when working with a student of any disability, would modify and break down the traditional curriculum. The teachers’ approaches were geared toward a mythical ‘norm’ of how students think and learn. Breaking down content into smaller steps, which often works for students with learning disabilities, is not always suitable for students with ASD (Jordan, 1997).
At Academy of Whole Learning, we interpret inclusive learning not to mean educating students with disabilities alongside students without disabilities; rather we meet the original intent of inclusive education. We provide a fully inclusive environment focused on participation, social skills and learning outcomes.