One of the primary roles of the government is creating an environment in which different people’s needs are met in a way that equality becomes more attainable. One of the domains that are the subject of discussion regarding the significance of inclusivity is education. Due to the fact that receiving an education is the first step towards the intellectual, practical, and emotional establishment of an individual, there is a need to ensure everyone has the opportunity to be included in the UK academic system. However, the subject that is often debated is whether it is possible to attend to every single student considering their physical, mental, and emotional differences. Multiple children who have autism have been left out of the conversation for many years. Being deemed unfit for socialization or reaching academic performances similar to those without this diagnosis, individuals with autism did not always have the opportunity to be equal to their peers merely because of their diagnosis. However, inclusive education that people with autism can receive is a primary concern on a political, social, and cultural level as a system that discriminates based on physical differences cannot be considered equal.
The paper aims to determine the evolution of the development of inclusive education, the terminology, certain characteristics of what makes a system inclusive, and legislation that covers the subject. While there are challenges due to the extensive support specific individuals require to attend the same schools as students without the diagnosis, ensuring fair opportunities is critical. Such an approach can minimize the stigma related to autism, include people in the society as active members, and raise awareness for the need for change.
There are several perspectives when it comes to inclusive education in the UK that relate to other countries as well. Generally speaking, an inclusive system is one that does not discriminate and aims to provide everyone with equal opportunities to participate (Awang-Hashim and P.Valdez, 2019). However, there are two separate perspectives in regards to inclusivity in education. Inclusivity, while emphasizing the notion of equality, can have a rather segregationist model. For example, the system can provide all people the ability to go to school yet segregate those with autism and those without the diagnosis. Thus, while all students have the option to attend school, the institutions are separate, highlighting that the physical condition of an individual is the primary decision-making influence that ultimately affects their whole lives. On the other hand, inclusivity means the opportunity to go to the same academic facilities regardless of one’s physical abilities.
This, of course, does not mean those specific individuals will not require additional support and help. Nonetheless, such an approach allows all students to be equal and not discriminated against based on their conditions. Moreover, this does not encourage a separated society in which people are judged based on certain health-related characteristics (Weber, 2020). In this case, the societal gap is not as critical, and the widespread discrimination that occurs when the system is to disperse is less likely to become prevalent. The two concepts are similar only in the aim of giving everyone the chance to receive an education. However, they are intrinsically different since one encourages separating people based on their differences while the other one accepts diversity and aims to have a more person-centred approach. Another difference is how one model tends to lead to societal dispersion and segregation. This is especially relevant due to some children with autism having difficulties socializing (Arini, Sunardi and Yamtinah, 2019). On the other hand, having schools that children with and without autism can attend encourages unity and diversification of all areas of life.
Historical Development of Inclusive Education
It is certain that while individuals with special needs, including children with autism, are still to be addressed in terms of more inclusive education, there has been a lot of positive change on the subject. Prior to the UK government confronting the academic gaps, certain people were deemed “ineducable”. Before creating a more diverse academic setting, children were segregated based on the “handicap” that doctors would label as one facilitating circumstances in which the student cannot go hand-in-hand with the regular school program. Thus, different institutions were designed to meet the specific needs of certain people with diagnosed conditions (Lindsay, Wedell and Dockrell, 2020). Needless to say, autism is a spectrum, which means that some children, while having the condition, were still enrolled in regular schools. However, this does not mean that the system was somewhat inclusive but rather that the diagnostics procedures at the time were not as accurate, and doctors were not fully aware of all the different manifestations of autism (Lester and O’Reilly, 2021). Either way, the more severe cases that required assistance, such as individuals who were non-verbal, were not able to attend regular academic facilities. Instead, the specialized schools where only special-needs people were allowed became the only options for people to receive some form of education and interact with peers.
A significant historic change towards a more inclusive system was the Warnock report. Mary Warnock, who was a member of the Committee Inquiry into the Education of Handicapped Children and Young People, suggested a nuanced approach to assisting children with special needs. The report itself did not completely disregard segregating disabled children. However, it highlighted that while severe cases such as people with multiple conditions or requiring 24/7 assistance are still to attend specialized schools, not all special-needs children benefit from being limited to such institutions (Lindsay, Wedell and Dockrell, 2020). There were several implications that would allow children with certain conditions to attend traditional academic institutions. The report mentioned parents agreeing with the terms, the education of other people not being compromised, the needs of the children being met, and the support services being expanded. Thus, mainstream schools were to accept students with conditions that were previously labelled as unfit for regular academic institutions. The implementation allowed for a more diverse environment in which different people were not segregated based on their diagnosis (Norwich, 2019). This, of course, included children with autism, who, oftentimes, could not receive the same education due to their diagnosis. It is essential to mention that the report did change not only the education system but also had a major impact on how people view autism. Instead of considering it something that defines someone and influences every aspect of one’s life, people began looking at it as a condition that does not necessarily have to be a label but rather one of the many features.
Another essential change that has helped shift towards a more effective education system in terms of assisting people with different needs was the Salamanca statement. The international meeting, where representatives from 92 different countries discussed ways to make education more inclusive, agreed that children with special needs are to receive assistance while attending regular schools (Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, 2020). Thus, instead of creating different institutions for people with specific diagnoses, the statement suggests that having mainstream schools is enough as long as resources are allocated to support different individuals. Education for all highlights the importance of giving everyone an equal chance when it comes to receiving knowledge and experience without being deprived based on mental or physical conditions. While the meeting affected multiple countries, it is vital to mention that the UK was among the nations that were influenced by it (Ainscow, Slee and Best, 2019). Moreover, children with autism became more widely accepted in regular schools instead of attending specialized facilities. The conference illustrated that governments were to treat educational inclusivity as a priority, which means allocating budgetary funds and creating environments that would facilitate diversity. This, of course, requires investments and subsidiaries since some children with autism and other conditions require assistance. However, the results have proven that the need for segregated institutions was overrated, and people with mental or physical disabilities are to be supported rather than ignored. Thus, the medical model was shifted towards the social one since children with autism, while often having difficulties integrating into society, were to be socially accepted instead of solely medically assisted to minimize some symptoms for the purpose of acceptance.
The Importance and Aim of Inclusive Education
Inclusive education, while a challenge that is hard to achieve, is a primary concern. The UK specifically has been actively trying to minimize the gap between children with autism and those without this diagnosis for multiple reasons. First, it is essential to point out that autism is a spectrum, and two people with the same diagnosis are not necessarily in need of the same resources, support, and academic approach. However, instead of labelling a child, inclusivity allows different individuals to access similar resources, thus narrowing the social gap. Indeed, academic performances are important and often dictate one’s future. However, inclusive education is also the first step towards an inclusive society in general. For example, schools are often the first places where children understand that everyone is different, and one has to be tolerant and understanding of someone else’s choices, physical abilities, and differences (Moriña, Sandoval and Carnerero, 2020). On the other hand, a system that only welcomes a certain type of people is intrinsically damaging for society. Children who attend schools where no one has a physical or mental disability are more likely to either be ignorant of the subject or biased towards such individuals in the future. This creates a hierarchy where one’s health can either correlate with a high or low position in the system. Nonetheless, those attending the same educational institution as students with disabilities or on the autism spectrum are more likely to be understanding and consider these students equal to them instead of inferior.
Since children will grow up to be active members of society, creating policies and deciding which causes to support, it is essential to support them in understanding that people are diverse, which does not imply they are better or worse. This is the primary point that puts emphasis on the importance of educational inclusivity. The aim of inclusive education is for students with special needs to be integrated into society by spending most of their time with non-special needs children. A segregated model is harmful to both parties and leads to dispersions in the socio-cultural life of the UK. First, children with certain conditions, specifically autism, feel left out of the conversation and ignored when their diagnosis influences where they study, work, live, and interact with others (Arini, Sunardi and Yamtinah, 2019). Thus, the primary aim of inclusivity is minimizing the gap through equal opportunities. However, the aim is also to teach the majority about the importance of diversity. While people without physical or mental conditions that significantly affect their livelihoods are the majority, disregarding everyone else illustrates the intrinsic inequality of the system.
In case schools are segregated, this implies that people’s health is the primary trait that defines them as an individual, which is dangerous in any democratic society. Children are primarily influenced by how they are viewed and the environment in which they operate (Ford et al., 2018). Thus, their performances can either be positively or negatively affected by the way they are treated. On the one hand, an individual with mild autism attending a specialized school may think that society does not expect much of them in terms of academic performances, career, and social life, which is why less effort is put into learning new things. However, if such children are in the same classes as those without the condition, this may stimulate them to do better at school and form meaningful friendships and relationships with peers.
SEN and UK Legislation
While inclusive education is both a societal and cultural aim, the legislation also helps the system change and implements certain regulations that can minimize risks such as inequality. Special educational needs (SEN) is a term used to characterize the situation in which a child requires support to enhance the ability to learn (Brussino, 2020). Such needs may be related to their school environment in terms of difficulties socializing, reading, writing, understanding teachers, concentrating, or mobility issues. Thus, individuals with autism with special educational needs may require support for things such as concentrating on a particular school subject, verbalizing, talking to classmates, or comprehending a complex theme discussed during classes. In terms of SEN categorization, children in the UK may be eligible for the support given directly in schools or specialized care plans in more severe cases.
It is also essential to mention the SEN code of practice which refers to the legal requirements that teachers, institutions, and authorities are to follow to ensure inclusivity. The four major areas referred to in the code are communication, learning, physical abilities, and mental/emotional health (Department for Education, 2020). The code of practice is designed to let education providers know what needs are to be assisted and how to create an environment in which children with autism and other condition have the same opportunities to learn. Thus, in case the student goes through an anxiety attack or an emotional breakdown, the school psychologist is to assist the person in need of emotional support. If the child is non-verbal, teachers are to focus on written tasks. Moreover, assistance may be needed in terms of mobility or learning challenges. The code of practice is implemented to maximize the student’s opportunities to receive a proper education without feeling discriminated against (Sinson, 2020). This also illustrates the UK legislation’s aim to address the prior segregation based on mental and physical disabilities, which also negatively affected children with autism. Moreover, international humanitarian law, which also applies to the UK, prohibits discrimination in education in most cases.
The exceptions include single-sex schools, faith schools, and specialized schools for people with disabilities that require extra assistance that may not always be available in all institutions. Another example of the UK government implementing legal regulations to ensure equal education opportunities is the Disability Equality Duty. It is a project that was applied in 2006 to eliminate discrimination in schools and universities and encourage people with disabilities to become active members of the academic world without fearing inequality (Beckett, 2009). Multiple international and national initiatives have been beneficial for narrowing the academic gap, which has been proven to be effective since the current situation shows a much less dispersed picture in terms of diversity.
Social and Medical Model of Autism
Autism is a spectrum not only in how the diagnosis manifests itself but also in how it is approached. The two standard models are the social and medical ones. The medical model illustrated the physical condition as a physiological factor. Thus, it is a disorder that can manifest itself differently based on the severity of the condition. Moreover, based on this framework, as with any disorders that may or may not affect one’s quality of life, it can be controlled with certain medications. Needless to say, autism cannot be treated but rather slightly managed with drugs and specialized assistance. On the other hand, the social model suggests autism is mainly influenced by how an individual interacts and is viewed by others (Subramanyam et al., 2019). How an individual interacts with society influences how the condition is perceived. The polarized overview is suggested by the fact that the medical model illustrates autism as a personal problem while the social one suggests it is influenced by how society is organized. Needless to say, denying autism as a medical condition altogether is not implied. However, it is inevitable that how the majority of people view it affects how individuals with autism are treated.
Inclusive Education for Children with Autism
Inclusive education for children with autism is a collective effort towards the provision of equal opportunities, which involves the participation of multiple people. While legislative measures document the regulations that are to be followed, it is vital to mention teachers as primary facilitators of inclusive education. According to researchers, teachers can apply an inclusive environment in the classroom by making children with autism or any SEN feel welcomes and give a sense of belonging (Pearson Mitchell and Rapti, 2014). Inclusion also reduces the stigma associated with this condition and stereotypes that lead to societal dispersion. Since the UK does not imply that all people with autism are to attend specialized schools (exceptions are applied), children without this diagnosis can get familiar and learn about autism. This reduces discrimination, improves knowledge on the subject, and facilitates an environment open to people being different.
Children with autism may have several difficulties when attending school. First, the issue may be related to the curriculum itself, which can be hard to keep up with depending on specific circumstances. This may manifest itself in lower grades and absenteeism (Anderson, 2020). For example, a student who has trouble concentrating during classes is less likely to have satisfactory academic results. This is why the school system may appear too complex for certain individuals. In this case, an option would be assisting the student and trying to appeal to their personal interests. For instance, the child has difficulties remembering information shared verbally while reading a text is much easier and makes the class more meaningful. In this case, teachers should not try to capture the student’s full attention while explaining a subject. Instead, letting them read and asking whether they have questions after the class may be a much better option. Mentors have a major impact on how children with autism operate on an academic level (Clark et al., 2019). While ensuring that the child still has all the necessary information and does not miss out on essential topics, the teacher still implies a personalized approach that fits the needs of a particular person.
Another challenge may be related to the fact that the student does not feel included in the social life of the class. Thus, interacting with peers and communicating with classmates may be more challenging for those with autism. Social interactions, however, are important steps in one’s personal growth and an aspect that will highly benefit students in the future when establishing a career or even personal relationship. In this case, school psychologists or even teachers can help the children with their feelings of anxiety (Locke et al., 2019). Moreover, extracurricular activities or team-building exercises can create a dialogue among classmates. This, the initial awkwardness of starting a conversation diminishes, and children are able to communicate without being limited by their conditions.
Children with autism are oftentimes experiencing difficulties while attending schools not only due to certain physical conditions but also societal stigma related to their disorder. Due to the fact that people are generally not knowledgeable in terms of autism and how it manifests, students with this diagnosis are misunderstood and do not feel like they belong in an environment in which they are not a part of the majority. This is why several approaches can be implemented to minimize such adverse outcomes. First, as mentioned prior, teachers are important in creating an inclusive school environment. Thus, training teachers in terms of providing assistance for children with autism and giving them more information on the condition can be helpful (Wermer, Brock and Seaman, 2017). In this case, children with autism who find it difficult to either keep up with the school curriculum or interact with classmates can be properly assisted through actions such as a modification in teaching style or encouragement. Another approach worth mentioning is bringing awareness by including children without autism in the discussion. Thus, specialized classes revolving around autism, how it manifests, the notion of a spectrum disorder, and ways to communicate with people with this condition may be helpful on two levels. First, those with autism will feel more comfortable since they will be understood (Cremin et al., 2020). Second, children will become more tolerant and open to accepting others despite their differences.
The UK has done multiple regulatory changes to create an environment in which the education system is inclusive. Children with autism, depending on the SENs, can attend mainstream school while receiving assistance if needed. While the system does not entirely deny segregation, which applies to students with more severe cases of autism, the difference in the societal overview of the condition is visible. Instead of solely applying the medical model, the societal one illustrates how people’s overview of autism cause individuals to have difficulties being active members of academic communities. More change is needed in terms of training teachers and minimizing the stigma, yet the implementations that have already been applied prove that autism is not a barrier to being included in the education system.
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