The mandate of AFA is to create an inclusive environment where people with autism can live, and work as fully participating members of their community. To us, inclusion means giving people the opportunity to join in with what they want to, having the choice to live where they feel comfortable, and not only doing what someone else thinks they ought to. It includes efforts to facilitate a barrier free environment - informational, attitudinal and physical – to create opportunities for all people.
For children, the term inclusion is often used in reference to educational settings, which is one form of inclusion.
*Inclusive education requires teamwork and is a responsibility that needs to be shared by the whole school.
*Effective inclusion does not simply mean placing a child with a disability in a ‘regular’ school. It also refers to providing more options for all children, and structuring schools in a way which every child including those who are differently abled can learn. All children may experience difficulties in learning at some stage. Therefore support by teachers in whichever environment/ skill set they may be facing problems is crucial.
*Inclusive education is a process involving the genuine restructuring of curriculum, teaching methods, and classroom organization that requires constant effort. When the teacher differentiates instruction according to content, process or product, it increases the likelihood that all students can meaningfully participate in class activities.
*Activity based learning is well suited to inclusion of learners with a wide variety of educational needs and learning styles.
*Teaching materials may also be adapted to match the student’s characteristics and interests.
*As the teacher plans her lessons and implements instructions for the students, it is important to think about each student’s ability and uniqueness and build on those.
*It is essential to support learning by providing multiple, flexible methods for both the teacher’s presentation of the lesson, as well as opportunities for the students to display what they know or have learnt.
* Equally important is empowering students by allowing for multiple, flexible methods for engagement, helping them to make certain decisions, and set goals on their own.
* Teachers in inclusive schools can use cooperative groups and peer supports to capitalise on student differences. Establishing a sense of community is essential for creating a successful classroom where all students want to contribute, are respected and cared about. The classroom is where students can learn to value differences, appreciate commonalities, and better understand concepts such as fairness, cooperation, equity and justice.
* It is necessary that the teacher learns students’ communication strengths and preferences, and provides individualised sensory supports to maximise learning.
* Schools often place greater emphasis on academic achievements and may overlook social skills training. If the child’s time is spent in one to one sessions with a resource teacher, then the peer interaction is limited only to playgrounds. These may be difficult for a child with autism as these interactions are free ranging and fast paced. Peer interactions on task-based situations are easier. Therefore opportunities must be set for appropriate and meaningful positive interactions.
* By supporting meaningful learning outcomes for all students, teachers can endorse the idea that a disability need not be a ‘handicap’ to learning, ability and friendship.
AFA and Inclusive Education
School is not just a place for learning academics. It is in the classroom where we learn many life skills. We learn social skills – we learn to compromise, to bargain and persuade. We learn communication – we learn to get attention, ask for help, compliment and describe. We learn language skills which are much more demanding than questions and answers of any tests. Preparation for adult life is the main objective of schooling. Therefore it is desirable that all children go to inclusive schools. This is also in harmony with the UN Convention for Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Since children with autism have distinct learning and thinking styles when compared to the non-autistic population, there is often a misinterpretation of their behaviours and language. Therefore as a prerequisite to inclusion it is essential that all teachers learn more about autism.
AFA has successfully placed many children with autism in mainstream schools and continually works with these schools to facilitate and sustain their inclusion. Through various training workshops, along with individualized training modules, AFA also empowers mainstream schoolteachers with a better understanding of children with autism, and strategies to achieve their successful inclusion. In addition, the AFA team also works with schools and government organisations to cater to their specific needs related to including children with autism in the mainstream classroom.
The work that AFA has done with the DAV public schools and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, amongst others, are examples of this endeavor. Special educators from Action for Autism visited a number of the DAV Public Schools in the NCR to sensitize teachers towards disabilities including autism. They also initiated inclusive events wherein students from the DAV schools visited AFA and students from AFA participated in celebratory events at the DAV school.
In 2008 AFA worked with the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India and developed a manual on inclusive education for children with autism for the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA). The SSA is the Government of India's flagship programme to achieve Universalization of Elementary Education in a fixed amount of time. Since then, AFA team members have been conducting regular workshops and training programmes across the country to provide training to SSA resource persons and trainers.
While we support inclusion, we also believe that inclusion should not replace sensitive, specialised training, particularly for children with more support needs and those with severe social impairments. High quality, specialised special education can have an enormous impact on the future functioning of children with autism. The ultimate goal is not just inclusion in school for the sake of inclusion. The term inclusion with respect to the differently abled has a far wider connotation and needs to encompass the life span of the individual, of which the school environment is one component.
Perhaps one model for how this can be achieved is through early specialised education where skills for later integration in the mainstream are taught. Inclusion in the truest sense means respecting individual differences, not ignoring them. It also involves respecting the need for an individual to learn and function to best of his capacity, in the environment that suits his individual learning needs the best, while making the necessary accommodations to facilitate the same.