Autism and school inclusion: 10 steps towards success

Mainstream settings offer more opportunities for social interactions to children with autism and other special needs than special settings, therefore lead to more space for social growth. However, simply “placing” a student in a mainstream classroom does not guarantee meaningful inclusion and skills development. Inclusion is about adjusting the educational environment to meet each individual student’s needs and help them excel. The following tips will help you make inclusion successful.

    1. First, find a school with an ethos that promotes inclusion for students with Special Education Needs. A supportive teacher with appropriate training and a school principal who is positive towards inclusion will create the best possible environment for your child to excel.
    2. Find a suitable professional to accompany the student in the school setting by providing one-to-one support and teaching whenever necessary. This professional (often called “shadow teacher”) involves an extra cost to be covered by the state, private insurance or family and needs to be well trained in evidence-based effective inclusive educational methods for students with Autism and other SEN (i.e., for more details on ABA-based strategies, click here).
    3. Provide additional training and regular supervision by a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst to the shadow teacher on how to provide effective prompts in class whenever necessary, how to fade prompts when the student is ready to move to independent performance, how to take data on performance and graph them, how to collaborate with the teacher, how to effectively teach academic skills and on a number of other relevant areas.
    4. Maintain high expectations in relation to academic achievement. Teach effectively academic contents, such as maths and language, in small steps, so that the student can follow most of what is going on in class. Focus as much as possible on real-world functional contents (i.e., problem solving). Remember that adapting academic contents to the student should be conducted with the student’s benefit in mind. Adaptations should allow the student to succeed while maintaining expectations as similar as those for peers as possible. Individual Education Plans (IEPs) reflect all targets to achieve in different developmental areas during the academic year.
    5. Prepare appropriate support materials for the student to use in class (e.g., visual summaries of geography lesson) to make learning effective and increase participation. Technology can help in this direction, as when the student can avail of a tablet with visual representations of basic concepts. Understanding what goes on in class will decrease boredom and frustration while increasing independence, learning and fun.
    6. Encourage active participation in classroom activities, such as raising hand to respond to teacher’s questions, volunteering to write on board, letting teacher know when exercise has been completed, asking for feedback/help from the teacher when necessary, interacting with peers when appropriate, etc. Offer choices to the student as much as possible. For example, ask students to write a text on their favourite animal, instead of the teacher picking up a topic.
    7. Prepare the student for regular or individualised assessments well in advance. In this way, success is guaranteed and high marks as well as positive feedback obtained by the teacher, parents and peers encourage further progress.
    8. Collaboration between parents, teachers, shadow teacher and any other professionals involved with the student’s education is key to success. Effective communication between stakeholders can be warranted by several means, such as through scheduling frequent school meetings with all stakeholders or sharing progress data and reports.
    9. Although academic contents are important, school is not only about increasing specialist knowledge. Social interactions with peers are of paramount importance and these can often booster academic performance as well (e.g., as when students are divided in mixed skills groups and taught to work in collaborative groups). Peers can also serve as competent models and provide support for the student with Autism when needed during classroom activities. This strategy benefits both the student with Autism and the peer, who ends up being more aware of classmates with special needs and having a tolerant attitude towards diversity in society. By helping a classmate, peers will feel proud and serve as a protection against bullying in the future. A way of increasing support from peers could be by assigning one or two peer buddies every month, who will make sure the student is included and has as much as support as needed. If the student faces difficulties at lunch time for example, the buddy could help the student feel comfortable while sitting at the table and enjoy the meal with friends.
    10. Think of after-school activities, such as sport or music classes, as an opportunity to further increase social interactions while having fun and create a circle of friends. Ask what activities classmates attend to or follow the student’s or siblings’ interests.

For an inspiring workshop delivered by Professor Bill Heward on ABA and inclusive practice, visit

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