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Inclusive classrooms start with why

The “what” is easy to identify. It could be issues with behavior, comprehension or communication.

But the key to creating a strategy to develop an inclusive classroom, according to Anne Spillane, Ph.D., associate professor of special education for University of Massachusetts Global, is to look beyond the “what” to the “why.”

“Teachers have all sorts of skills already. When we talk about typical kids, ‘I see that problem, I see this solution works.’ Sometimes when you see the problem, and provide the solution, but have a child who is not typical, the problem isn’t really what you think it is,” Spillane said.

This is especially true, Spillane said, when the “not typical” students are on the autism spectrum. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the fastest growing disability in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The prevalence of autism in U.S. children skyrocketed, from 1 in 150 children in 2000 to 1 in 59 in 2018, according to the CDC’s most recent Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network report.

As the diagnoses grow, the practice of inclusive classrooms is also on the rise. The time students with disabilities spend in a general classroom 80 percent or more of the time has almost doubled in three decades, from close to 32 percent in 1989 to 62 percent in 2015, according to the latest National Center for Educational Statistics report.

Special education teachers and instructional aides can help, but that resource is shrinking. An Education Week Research Center survey shows the number of special education teachers has dropped by more than 17 percent over the past decade.

That’s why general education teachers need a strategy for an inclusive classroom, where students with special needs and typical students can engage, learn, and grow together. While teachers usually have a toolbox of solutions for challenges, turning to the tried-and-true isn’t necessarily recommended when educating students on the spectrum. She emphasizes looking at the “why.”

“There’s a saying: if you know one kid with autism, you know one kid with autism,” Spillane said. “Instead of looking at what’s causing disruptive behavior, look at the underlying cause. Is it a communications difficulty? A sensory issue? Or not reading a social situation and the student needs it explicitly explained to them? The underlying cause may not be not knowing academics. It could be not being able to communicate what they know about the academics.”

Because the field and findings are constantly changing, University of Massachusetts Global’s autism program doesn’t use a text book. Faculty stay current and up to date with trends, changing requirements and best practices through ongoing research, articles, and field work. The program provides teachers with resources they can use immediately in their classrooms to find the “why”, and ones to share with parents that can help them find a community.

By developing a solid strategy for an inclusive classroom, the parent, special education teacher and general education teacher can work together as a team to meet the needs of all students.

Looking for a teacher training program tailored to your school’s or district’s needs? Schedule your complimentary needs assessment with one of our specialists today: www.umassglobal.edu/edupartner


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