Interestingly, it appears that roughly 50% of parents commenting on this Facebook post did not agree with it; they were for segregated classrooms, in some shape or form. Their reasoning was valid; they believed that segregated classrooms helped keep their children in education, while ensuring the safety of other students. It was also argued that more than one choice should be offered for what is in essence a spectrum disorder; and some autistic students actually prefer their segregated classrooms, where they feel more confident and comfortable.
Based on my experience teaching in the UK, segregation was rarely an option. To remain inclusive (and productive), some autistic children definitely need a 1:1 TA – not segregation – and the entire class needs to discuss and agree upon a plan of action, should behavior become extreme / potentially dangerous. The student can be lead away by their 1:1 so they can calm down, then return to class when ready. So, designated “cool down zones” are also needed. If the class is aware and practices what to do, it greatly helps and does not reflect badly on the student being removed; in fact, I found the opposite – students become more empathetic and willing to help with management of the student.
It greatly helped to meet with my TA and discuss in depth how to arrange the classroom and plan for a meltdown. For example, we moved shelves, tables, chairs, and anything that could be snatched up and thrown from the non-verbal student’s seat. We also sat him near the front door, so he could be quickly removed, while my students exited via the back door. We practiced this procedure as a class and, when the student in question had a violent meltdown, the TA complimented my entire class on how orderly, safe and respectful their exit was.
Of course, taking time to get to know the autistic students is crucial; something which time constraints and stressful admin can get in the way of. For example, I had one autistic student who was often restrained and carried out of the lesson by his 1:1 TA. I was alarmed by this. One day, I noticed him drawing an amazing, highly detailed 3D image of a car. I complimented him and I recall the look he gave me; he was non-verbal, but there was a recognition there. From that moment on, he made me some excellent drawings – very advanced for his age. I still have them. Whenever he started to feel upset, we’d ask him to do some drawing; he’d settle straight away, without having to leave the classroom. I remember thinking that he shouldn’t be wasting his time learning phonics with the rest of the class; he should be learning AutoCAD! He could have a brilliant career designing cars for a major manufacturer. I wonder what happened to him?
So, the key is to get to know your autistic students; to figure out what their special interest is and use that as a foundation to differentiate their learning environment. However, if you have the financing, staff and space, then it appears that segregated classrooms are an acceptable alternative for many.