Are the special needs schools in India equipped enough to meet the learning needs of autistic children?
Let’s welcome the children with Autism into the inclusion process with our attitude and simple modification techniques.
Rabindranath Tagore’s philosophy of education focused on the importance of nature for learning and advocated creative endeavors as being central to the learning process. From Tagore’s philosophy of education, it is evident that the learning process is incomplete without nature and creative teaching skills. Similarly, an insight into children with Autism is incomplete without understanding:
- The learning-teaching strategies followed at their schools/institutions
- Learning needs of the autistic children
The schools are generally of four types.
- Special schools run primarily for children with autism spectrum disorders.
- Special schools run primarily for Neurodevelopmental disorders.
- (Divyang /specially challenged individuals) and Autism.
- Other schools type is typically developing children with an inclusive setup.
- Some schools provide outreach programs for children with Autism who take the educational plan and training and implement them in their homes.
As part of the National Educational Policy, every school should accommodate the Autism children, and this policy enables no child will be rejected from the admission process based on their disability.
But it is always skeptical that the acceptance and accommodation really can happen in mainstream schools? Does the inclusive policy bring more significant benefits?
To understand this, let me give a little introduction about Autism and the different facilities needed for schools.
Let us know the different facilities while designing the school to welcome special students to bring greater acceptance and create convenience by facilitating an inclusive environment.
Let’s discuss the techniques and welcome:
Definition of Autism
The National Trust for the welfare of persons with Autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and multiple disabilities Act 1999 defined “Autism as a condition of uneven skill development primarily affecting the communication and social abilities of a person marked by repetitive and ritualistic behavior.”
The children with Autism were also called the children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The typical quality of unevenness of the children makes it difficult to take up all subjects of the same class. The difference in communication skills makes them difficult to interact with other peer mates. The observational learning and behavior issues bring the challenge to the Child’s acceptance.
Let us discuss what kind of modification can benefit them:
Some special educators opinion that managing special children is a tedious and hectic task, but dealing with children with Autism requires loads of energy, creativity, practical experience, and sensitization about the subject. National Research Council (2001) denotes that more effective programs are those that emphasize the importance of intensive therapy and have a high staff-child ratio (i.e., 1:1 or 1:2).
A shadow teacher can help the child and continue in the inclusive classroom setup. Trained special teachers, experienced staff, therapists, and other professionals in special education, especially for the children with Autism, can enhance them in the inclusion process.
Generally, in special schools, the classes are divided into different levels depending on the hierarchy, and the child gets promoted depending on their goals and age.
But including some modifications in the infrastructure can accommodate the infrastructure in the class, including tables and chairs with appropriate height for the children to increase Child’s eye contact, low-leveled chairs for teachers, independent partitioned work areas with undisturbed work corners for children who perform the interactive sessions were also present in the classrooms.
Teaching Aids Used by the Educator
Teaching aids are the materials the teacher uses while teaching a concept to the child. Structured teaching materials like puzzles, construction toys, blocks, manipulative toys, indoor games, and items like paints, brushes, clay, pens, crayons, glues, and other similar items are commonly found among the institutes visited.
The special educator uses the teaching material and aids available in the classrooms with different permutations and combinations as per the child’s needs. ‘Discovery activities’ like animal models, plants, aquariums, and other similar items help them visualize better.
They should have a function hall, playground, sand area, park, windmill, bicycle, scatting area/shoes, swings, a bigger ball, and others. Special therapists units like occupational therapy, speech therapy, physiotherapy, early intervention unit, psychology, and others. Some special programs should be organized like the “Mother-Child Interaction Programme,” a home-based program aimed at training parents.
Multidisciplinary Approach and Structured Learning
In a multidisciplinary approach, team members work together and understand the Child’s strengths and needs. Based on needs, the person with ASD requires intervention, family counseling, vocational counseling, physio/occupational therapies, speech therapy, and special education or rehabilitation measures. The team members include psychologists, medical professionals, therapists (yoga, music, dance), social workers, special educators (plans programs for intervention), and vocational instructors.
Structured learning brings clarity on what should include and exclude to the teacher. It brings clarity of start and finish to the child and the goals. This makes the child comfortable by reducing stress and focusing on the task. Expected behaviors are made clear, then bring greater success in their attempts.
Individualized Education Programme (IEP)
Individualized education programs or curriculum learning were planned for the children as per their abilities. A combination of individualized educational approaches and treatments is often more beneficial for individuals diagnosed with Autism but should be carefully selected.
Let the individual sit in the class, but let him have a different curriculum to complete, which is more based on visual clues.
Sensory Integration Therapy
Sensory integration therapy is an innovative intervention where the children are given special therapy according to their sensory needs.
Physical Environment of the Classroom
Usually, it is agreed that hyperactive children need to be quietened and calmed by reducing environmental stimulation. Pleasant and appealing surroundings may help compensate for the child’s disadvantaged position and optimize abilities to perform competently. Well-organized storage and display allow children to accept the school and classroom.
A well-designed teaching strategy brings more significant success in accepting the Child. Some behaviors like attention-seeking and other behavioral issues need to be handled using the social behavioral methodology. Planned rewards can enhance the learning process.
Strategies for communication
The understanding deficits bring barriers to the communication of the child. The flashcard techniques and picture exchange communication system can be used to bring the communication established with the child, teacher, and other peer mates. The speech therapist follows PECS and establishes a bond by rewarding correct comprehension. This enhances the empathy in the peer mates/classmates. The institutes also use a sequential placement of flashcards to help the child follow a structure within the activity
Strategies for Social Development
Social stories play a role in learning the socially appropriate behavior the special educators follow. Peer modeling or peer-mediated strategies show themselves to be the most potent means of improving social interactions of children with Autism and of generalizing and maintaining inclusive preschool settings
Let’s accept the change contracting to the conventional learning system; they are visual learners who accept the change of giving the exam with visual clues, understand the concept, and develop the skill set.
These are different learning needs of children with Autism. The facilities can be made worth the resource material that is low-cost resources. The attitude and intelligence of converting the classroom into a rich environment is the responsibility of every teacher to bring the potential of the children of their class.
- Niranjan Kumar
About the Author
G.secretary For Darpan.
Working as a rehabilitation Professional since 1998, Niranjan opened the first Autism center in North India after Delhi, Darpan(Center for Autism), in April 2005. He is aware of the society in various ways like workshops, rallies, talks, posters, social media, videos, etc. He is empathetic and sensitizes the parents, Doctors, and professionals about Autism.