When Is Inclusion Right for Your Autistic Child?

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"Inclusion" is a beautiful word, and it's a wonderful idea. It means "your child with autism is included in with everyone else in school or other settings, and receives the same opportunities and resources as everyone else."

But is inclusion right for your autistic child? The answer will vary from situation to situation, and even from year to year.  Here are some situations in which full inclusion with typical peers is -- or is not -- a great idea.

Yes! Push for Inclusion When...

Your autistic child asks you to do so.  Your autistic child is desperate to take part in the local Little League team or the school play.  Or perhaps she tells you "I just want to be in a normal class!" If your child says she's ready for inclusion, it's time for you to start thinking seriously about what it would take to make her dreams come true.  While it may take some planning and support, it's usually possible -- and when a child is motivated, you never know what wonderful outcomes may emerge!

There is an opportunity for your child to build on strength. Sadly, most of the time we hear about nothing but our child's "deficits." But what if your child has a real talent -- in art, sports, music, math, or technology?  In that case, inclusion is not only a good idea, it's also the only way that your child will get the opportunities he deserves. Special needs programs are not intended as a pathway to scholarships or opportunities in the larger community -- so inclusion is the best option.

You know your child can handle it.  For years your child has been in "special" classrooms. But you've heard her read, you've seen her writing, and you know she can handle a typical academic setting. Sure, she might need a little social support, but you're confident that she can have a positive experience.

Your child has been invited to take part in an inclusive opportunity. Every now and then, an opportunity comes along for a child with autism to go to a birthday party, join in a school event, or become a part of a social group. Don't let these precious opportunities pass you by!

No. Don't Push for Inclusion When...

Your autistic child is unhappy about the idea. Sometimes, the desire for inclusion is all about the parents and has very little to do with the child's actually desires or abilities. Resist the urge to demand inclusion when your child is not ready for it.

The setting is not ready for your child. It's true that you COULD push for inclusion in a school where supports and training are not in place -- but why do it?  The vast probability is that your child will wind up back in a special needs setting where he'll find (at least) teachers and aides who have a clue what autism is all about. A better option is to seek a different educational setting!

Your child is not ready for the setting.

The Boy Scouts are ready to accept your child -- but he's not ready to sit still, follow spoken instruction, or understand the rules of the organization. When that's the reality, it's usually wisest to wait until your child shows that he has at least some of the skills to have a meaningful experience. Otherwise, despite everyone's best intentions, it may not be a good experience for anyone.

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