Can children with ASD thrive in mainstream schools?
As a growing number of toddlers are diagnosed with autism, parents are often left wondering if their children should be educated in a specialised setting or in mainstream preschools. To answer this question, researchers from La Trobe University in Australia examined the feasibility and effectiveness of delivering the Group-Early Start Denver Model(G-ESDM) — a type of intervention method for children developed at La Trobe — to children with autism spectrum disorder in inclusive versus specialised classrooms.
Over three years, 44 preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder aged between 15 and 32 months were randomly assigned for one calendar year to classrooms that included only toddlers with autism or to classrooms with typically developing peers.
The overall learning and teaching quality in mainstream classrooms was graded high and equal to specialised classrooms.
Blind-rated indicators of teaching quality showed similar results across both settings. The overall learning and teaching quality in mainstream classrooms was graded high and equal to specialised classrooms. This indicates that the extra training and added requirements involved with autistic children in mainstream classrooms did not detract from student development, nor did it reduce the amount of attention staff gave to typically developing children. The toddlers showed improvement across proximal measures of vocalisation, social interaction and imitation as well as across distal measures of verbal cognition, adaptive behaviour and autism symptoms, irrespective of the intervention setting. The study also found that mothers of participants experienced a reduction in stress, irrespective of intervention type.
In world-first breakthrough research, scientists have found that children with autism can develop important life skills and thrive in mainstream preschools as well as in specialised settings. With La Trobe’s developmental program, these kids are reaching their own developmental goals while also generalising their learning in a group environment with their peers — which is really important for children with a disability as they learn to be part of a group and not isolated outside of school activities. This also gives children without a disability the opportunity to be more accepting of diversity at an early age and prevents discrimination and social isolation.
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