The growing recognition that our schools are out of step with changing social patterns has inspired some rethinking about the way they are structured.
Alternatives now on the table include adding early childhood centers to public schools, adapting the school calendar and/or length of the school day to schedules of working parents, and allowing students to stay with the same teachers for more than one year, as is done in some European countries, in hopes of gaining the sort of relationship with an adult increasingly missing at home.
Some experts still think that unless an autistic child is highly functioning, there is no way that the person can be socially competent. Private schools will not tolerate the presence of these young children since they have no legal obligation to educate the child.
More than that, there are very few private schools that are equipped to handle children with autism (Autism Spectrum Disorders). There are possibilities that a child will learn in these schools but then again, there are many factors that need to be considered. For instance, in Philadelphia, there are a number of special needs private schools but very few welcome a child with autism. Teachers and school administrators know that autistic children have a difficult time with their social skills but have excellent reading skills.
Thus, they are more likely to encounter problems with other children who are more flexible socially but have problems academically. These schools are not especially equipped with this kind of structure. Unless the school accepts only 100% all autistic children, there will be difficulties. In fact, there will be difficulties even then because there will not be any models for other children and the atmosphere will be quite conflicting with the goal of making these children cope well with their environment.
There are inclusionary practices that are being considered by other schools. A promising trend here is a greater use of “collaborative learning” techniques, where more emphasis is placed on the types of cooperation and communication that will be needed in an “information age.” (Kohn, 1986).
Inclusion of cooperation along with competition may have several effects (1) making classrooms more success-oriented; (2) counteracting some of the social isolation experienced by children without old-fashioned “neighborhood” play experiences; (3) building oral language skills by teaching structured ways of talking together about what is being learned.
Changes of this sort will not salvage academic learning, however, unless curricular goals are broadened to emphasize language and thinking skills. Since brains are shaped in classrooms as well as in homes, we cannot afford to overlook these growing needs during the hours children spend in school.
Schools are now concerned on how to stock classrooms with teachers who can—and do—read, write, and reason. Although none of the ideas to follow are revolutionary in scope, they all call for good teachers whose own intellects can be trusted, or at least developed.
We cannot depend on workbooks and kits chosen because they are “teacher-proof” (a questionable, but all-too-common “attribute”). Such materials, by necessity, include little, if any, writing and reasoning. Teachers recognize that they need encouragement, perhaps some additional training in handling autistic children and most often, smaller classes in order to do the job demanded of them.
Even if elementary school teachers must be well grounded in the liberal arts and sciences as well as in the specific tools of their profession, it is difficult to expand minds to meet the demands of the autistic children if their own perspectives are foreshortened by lack of training.
If schools are to do a proper job, they cannot, with existing resources also shoulder the major burden of their charges’ personal, social and emotional development. Yet school administrators and teachers are increasingly pressured to take on jobs they see as parental ones to these autistic children. Some assert quite vehemently that they are tired of spending so much time “parenting the parents”; even well-heeled professionals need frequent reminders of their responsibilities to their children.