In recent years, there has been an increased emphasis on including students with disabilities in the general education classroom. Over the years, Public Law 94-142, (Education for All Handicapped Children Act, 1975), which was most recently revised in 2004 under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA, 2004), legally mandates that students with disabilities be provided educational services in the least restrictive environment. Specifically, what this means, is that children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions, are to be educated with children in the general education classroom (IDEIA, 2004, p. 118). The legal push for inclusion, applies to all students categorized as having any disability, including those with autism spectrum disorders.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) display deficits in three core areas of functioning: social interaction skills, communication skills, and restricted or repetitive interests (von der Embse, Brown & Fortain, 2011). There is tremendous variability to the extent in which these impairments manifest themselves, as does the severity of associated characteristics, such as cognitive impairment. While social and communication deficits are the most common areas of research, students with ASD often display a host of other behaviors that can make learning in the classroom more challenging. For example, resistance to transitions, sensory issues, hyperactivity, short attention span, impulsivity, aggression and self-injurious behaviors (von der Embse, Brown & Fortain, 2011) are often the primary barrier to inclusion and social integration into the general education classroom (Harrower & Dunlap, 2001). Therefore, behavioral interventions to help facilitate inclusion for children with disabilities into the general education classroom are vital for students with ASD.
Educators must consider interventions that are most effective in reducing challenging behaviors typically associated with ASD in order to promote effective inclusion. Research has demonstrated positive social benefits of inclusion through Circle of Friends (Kalyva & Avramidis, 2005) and interactions with typically developing peers also promote positive social behaviors (Odom & Strain, 1984). However, despite these positive effects, students with ASD have historically been separated from their general education peers (Stainback & Stainback, 1996).
Given the rising rates of ASD and the emphasis placed on inclusion, it is necessary to take a deeper look into best practices to reduce challenging behaviors in the classroom, thus, promoting inclusion of students with ASD in general education settings.
A literature review on inclusion that was conducted by von der Embse et al. (2011), within the past 10 years, indicated that despite the lack of evidence-based practices that measure inclusion as an outcome, there were however, several themes that emerged that can be used as a starting point towards the identification of effective practices to reduce challenging behaviors for students with an ASD and meet the federal requirements of inclusion into general education classrooms.
Functional behavioral assessments, social skills training and behavioral approaches, such as discrete trial training (DTT) were all found to be effective methods to help reduce problem behaviors for students with ASD in the general education classroom and should be viewed as a starting point in identifying the problem behavior. Research supports that functional behavioral assessments can help facilitate inclusion into the general education classroom. Additionally, functional behavioral assessments have been shown to be effective in decreasing problem behaviors and are also reported to increase appropriate behaviors, which in turn, promotes inclusion.
Social skills training is another method that has proven to be effective in helping to decrease problem behaviors and promote inclusion in the general education classroom (von der Embse et al., 2012). Social skills that are taught through games have been shown to decrease inappropriate behaviors while generalizing these acquired skills to new environments. Video modeling and social stories are other social skill strategies that have been used to teach positive social behaviors, and research supports that they have been shown to increase positive social interactions.
It is important for educators to use research-based methods to facilitate the inclusion of students with ASD in the general education classroom. The strategies that are outlined above are a stepping-stone in the right direction towards effective methods that work. It is important for parents and professionals to understand the barriers that may impede the process of inclusion and work towards viable solutions for families and educators.
Jill Krata, PhD, is Manager of Clinical Services with the YAI Autism Center. For more information, please visit www.yai.org/autism or contact YAI LINK for information and referral for services at 1-866-2-YAI-LINK.
Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, Pub. L. No. 94-142, 20 U.S.C. 1401 et seq. (1975).
Harrower, J., & Dunlap, G. (2001). Including children with autism in general education classrooms: A review of effective strategies. Behavior Modification, 25, 762-785.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, 20 U.S.C. 1400 et seq. (2004).
Kalyva, E., & Avramidis, E. (2005). Improving communication between children with autism and their peers through the “Circle of Friends”: A small-scale intervention study. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 18, 253-261.
Odom, S.L., & Strain, P.S. (1984). Classroom-based social skills instruction for severely handicapped preschool children. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 4(3), 97-116.
Stainback, S.B., & Stainback, W.C. (1996). Inclusion: A guide for educators. Baltimore, MD: Brookes.
von der Embse, N., Brown, A., & Fortain, J. (2011). Facilitating inclusion by reducing problem behaviors for students with autism spectrum disorders. Intervention in School and Clinic 47(1), 22-30.