Autism or the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder, characterized by social skills deficits, certain repetitive behaviors, difficulties with speech and communication, behavioral issues, and sometimes, certain highly developed faculties and unique strengths. It is not a well-defined condition and the causes are still largely indefinite. They may include genetic and environmental factors.
Autism Speaks one of the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organizations, provides useful information about the condition. Identifiable signs and symptoms begin to appear by age 2-3 and sometimes even earlier. There may be developmental delays and multiple disabilities in the child and these may also be diagnosed around the same time. Today, nearly 1/68 children are diagnosed with ASD around the world.
Other developmental disabilities like Down’s Syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, etc can also impact the person’s ability to integrate into the social, economic and educational structure.
Inclusiveness and Educational Institutions
Historically, inclusion as a fundamental right was first advocated in the 1950s. Until then, children with disabilities were considered less competent to learn. However, with more awareness and information becoming available, the importance of early learning and interventions in childhood settings, “where immense growth, acquiring knowledge, skills and abilities in several interconnected realms – social, emotional, physical, self-help or adaptive” (First Steps To Preschool Inclusion: Gupta and Henninger) gained relevance.
The authors of the above quoted research study also noted that, “Research shows that high-quality inclusion can help young children make gains that are visible not only during preschool but also realized much later in life.”
How Do Children With Disabilities Benefit From Inclusion?
Early intervention may not be the magic bullet that can transform the lives of children with disabilities, but there are several significant long-term gains to be made. These benefits have a lasting impact on the person’s life and can smooth the path to better integration and achievement of human growth potential.
Inclusion from a human rights viewpoint also sensitizes society around the individual and promotes feelings of equality, dignity and respect.
These are the main areas where inclusion has an impact:
- Helps child to develop positive socio-emotional skills
- Promotes relationship building skills
- Helps acquire and use knowledge including use of computers, language, literacy
- Inculcates development of self-help skills like grooming, feeding, hygiene etc
- Learn to exhibit more positive social and emotional behaviors from peer models
- Learn to generalize and apply their social skills to new social interactions (especially relevant for children with autism)
Research scholar at Montreal University, Kathleen O’Grady, herself the parent of a child with autism, recounts her own personal experience of her son’s participation in an integrated public school system. The outcome has been extremely positive, with encouraging responses from the school system, peers and educators involved in the school.
A consistent psycho-educational approach, with focus on the changing and evolving needs of children with disabilities as they grow can certainly benefit this population and also add value to human and social interactions, while helping to understand and accept such conditions in people with special needs.