Community Inclusion of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Instructor: Lori Sturdivant

Lori has a specialist's degree in Instructional Leadership/Mild Moderate and currently serves as the Lead Teacher for The University of Southern Mississippi's Autism Project.

This lesson will provide you with some strategies that promote inclusion and acceptance of children with autism spectrum disorders. Also included are examples for implementing the strategies at the school and community levels.

Understanding Inclusion

'Inclusion' does not simply mean the placement of individuals with an autism spectrum, or communication, disorder in activities with their non-disabled peers. A true inclusive setting is a change in the way a school or community supports the specific needs of each person. Inclusive programs not only benefit individuals with disabilities but also create an atmosphere in which every person, including those who do not have disabilities, has the opportunity to be successful.

Promoting Inclusion at School

Using differentiated instruction (DI) is a great way to provide students with options in how they complete assignments and are assessed. Let's look at an example.

Objective: Students write a book report and present it to the class.

You can differentiate by:

1. Offering a manageable choice of books

2. Offering books in video and/or audio format

3. Offering a manageable choice of presentation methods, such as an oral report or a PowerPoint or Prezi presentation

These options do not alienate students with an autism spectrum disorder who may have communication problems or sensory issues. Differentiated instruction does not single students out; all students are provided with the same options. DI also benefits all students by allowing them to choose how they complete their assignments, which provides them with the chance to take ownership of their learning.

Other Inclusive Strategies for the Classroom

  • Actively teach disability awareness. These types of programs teach students about disabilities/abilities, focusing on everyone's strengths, instead of weaknesses. Educating a class can ease anxiety about students who strike their peers as 'different.'
  • Teach a social skills curriculum on a weekly basis. Formal instruction in this area teaches all students how to behave appropriately, especially those with an autism spectrum disorder, as they often have difficulties in social settings.
  • Create service-based projects so students have the opportunity to work together and reflect on their contributions. For example, students could collect and deliver canned goods for a local food bank; they could even prepare and serve a meal to the public, which would also include the community at large.

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