In many countries, the education sector is increasingly advocating for inclusivity, which involves transitioning special needs students from private classrooms to mainstream education. The adjustment has created challenges for educators and learners since the traditional national curriculums are still being used. For instance, referring to England, Slee (2011, p. 6) states that “students and teachers…must live and work within the confines of a narrowly defined National Curriculum.” This justifies the argument of Davies and Bansel (2007, p. 247), who argue that the effects of neoliberalism are deliberately engineered. Consequently, the challenges arising from comprehensive schooling have made scholars conduct research that can inform evidence-based practice. The issue with “disablism” studies is that it often arouses “medicalization” (Goodley 2014, p. 4). The implication is that problems of sensory, cognitive, and physical impairments are individualized to specific students making them feel alienated. The objective of this paper is to analyze a critical incident involving a pupil with autism and discuss lessons and policy recommendations garnered from experience.
Scope and Overview of the Incident
During my placement, I was directed to work with a five-year-old child with autism. The reason was that the teacher was due to be observed and did not want his lessons to be disrupted. I obeyed the instructions, but I was left with many questions. One of the concerns that I had was the integrity of the supervision process if one member of the class is left out because of special needs. My expectation was for evaluation to be done with all the students, including the boy with autism, in attendance so as to understand the challenges that the teachers encounter in an inclusive class. According to De La Cruz (2020, p. 136), one of the factors that affect inclusivity is “the perception and acceptance of regular teachers.” In this case, it was apparent that the lesson instructor had a negative attitude towards the student with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The tutor had not accepted the fact that he was required to prepare all of his pupils. The challenge is escalated by the fact that educators are not sufficiently trained to deal with the challenges of teaching all children, regardless of their individual differences.
While being with the child outside the classroom, I was unsure how to progress since he had no individualized teaching plan for the lesson being taught. As Varley et al. (2019) state, children with disabilities are more likely to be isolated even when enrolled in mainstream education due to negative perceptions by students and other teachers. I noticed the child looked lonely and tried to initiate a conversation with the pupil, but he remained silent. Admittedly, I was not prepared so I tried to do some quick online research on the ideal strategy for tutoring students with ASD. The child then asked if he could play using my phone; I politely declined and led him to the playroom where my toys were. He took the block toys and started counting and adding.
I joined the play by asking him to give me a specific number of blocks to build a sand house. During the game, I noticed that the child was able to count and accurately add and subtract up to ten blocks while counting. It dawned on me that the reason he was disruptive during lessons is that he was not accustomed to the setting. The school’s administration needs to be more considerate of the children with autism when structuring the classes and other facilities to be more inclusive. As stated by Josilowski and Morris (2019, p. 1276), students with autism “experience difficulties with transitions during classroom routines and they may respond with challenging behaviors.” It is important for the educators to understand the individual differences of the students and help them feel comfortable in mainstream classes.
The lesson teacher was worried that this pupil will disrupt his assessment because in the previous classes the student never settled in one position. His immediate diagnosis was that the behavior is typical for pupils with ASD. Such assumptions are common in the interpretation of disability. The myopic perceptions result in an expectation that children with special needs behave in “distinct, measurable ways as a direct consequence of their impairments” (Goodley, 2014, p. 5). Such uninformed diagnosis makes educators fail to recognize other possible causes of the child’s action.
Analysis of the Incident
Students’ rights in an inclusive classroom are not well-defined, which results in ethical concerns. Universally, all minors are expected to be given an opportunity for education regardless of individual differences (Robin et al., 2019). Yet, during the lesson, the teacher dismissed the boy with ASD for fear of possible disturbances during class. Worthy of note, children with autism can have problems concentrating and remaining calm in class as they require more attention.
Dismissing the child with autism is also a form of denying him his rights because he will not attend lessons. Teachers must be more competent in dealing with all students regardless of their physical or emotional state. The school administration can focus on ensuring that the teachers receive regular training to enhance their skills and knowledge in dealing with a wide range of students in the classrooms. Parental involvement and collaboration are also necessary for understanding students’ behavior. Consequentially, the setting should be adjusted to ensure that it is appropriate for all students. Once the educators accept that students are different, they can create an environment of acceptance where no student is labeled as problematic. The talents, skills, and preferences of pupils can be identified early and nurtured.
The decision to make mainstream schools inclusive also introduced power and hegemony issues. The critical disability theory seeks to end “ableism with observation and analysis” (Perez, 2014, p. 25). It is clear that there are still imbalances in the education sector. For instance, when the boy was sent out of the lesson, he missed some topics. When students are being assessed, they are all given the same questions, yet the child with autism did not have an equal opportunity to learn. The implication is that the exclusionary procedures that are observed by most mainstream often disempower the students with special needs.
Another observation in the incident is the lack of competencies in the teaching strategies that are applicable to students with special needs. The current curriculum followed by teachers was formulated to fit only the students that are considered able. The notion that educators have is informed by what Goodley (2014) describes as disablism. Specifically, it comprises the experiences and practices which aim to eradicate, exclude and neutralize the individuals, bodies, community practices, and minds that do not conform to the capitalist imperatives (Goodley, 2014). The teacher asked the child with ASD to go out so that I could work with him while the rest of the able students remained in class. It is apparent that the teacher lacked the necessary competencies to deal with the pupil with special education needs.
The best way that the teacher could have acted is to devise a plan that would be suitable for an inclusive class so that the child with autism can also attend the lesson during the teacher’s evaluation. According to Gebhardt et al. (2015, p.130) “collaboration between general teachers and special education teachers are among the most important factors for student achievement.” The teamwork between educators makes teaching complementary. It can also help to minimize power imbalance since the special education teacher can introduce procedures that are needed by the child with autism.
For example, instead of always using the lecture model, the teacher can use visual or haptic modalities, which are more suitable for pupils with autism. When I took the child to play with blocks, he enjoyed the adding and subtraction challenges and did not show any antisocial behavior. Power is evident in this context since the teacher used his authority to remove one child who was not in a capacity to advocate for his rights. As stated by Perez (2014, p. 29), “retention may be working as a subtle method of segregation that perpetuates capitalist notions of limited human value and their relationship to production.” This means that when some students who perform well in standard exams are allowed to proceed, those who fail remain in the current class which creates a power imbalance among peers. This procedure is often disempowering to the students with special needs because they are likely to fail the standardized test.
Lessons from the Incident that Impact Practice and Policy
Teaching is one of the noble careers with a direct impact on the fundamental constitutional rights of children and adults with disabilities. Changes that have been implemented in the education sector, such as inclusivity is has the potential of resisting neoliberalism and addressing the challenges faced in mainstream schools. In most countries, the implementation was done without proper planning. Consequently, there are many mistakes that are being made when planning, leading to disorganization and confusion in class (Gould and Vaughn, 2000). The incident that I experienced in which a child with autism was dismissed from class to allow for assessment of the instruction has major lessons.
Implication for Practice
The education system must appreciate the challenges which educators experience in their line of duty instead of criticizing them. In this incident, the teacher was due to be assessed before he decided to ask the child with ASD to get out of the lesson so that he does not cause disruption to other students. It is apparent that the tutor believed he would be blamed for the ill behaviors of the child and receive a negative review. According to Slee (2011, p.3), teachers’ functions are often “distracted from educating by compliance rituals and inspection schedules and sanctions…” This statement depicts the distrust that is available not only within the public domain but also among key administrative leaders. The outcome of such a hostile environment pushes the instructor to devise crafty ways that will ensure they are well appraised. Isolation of the special needs student is also evident in such a setting. The recommendation is that the assessment should be done only after understanding the challenges that are within the respective classroom.
Training of teachers on how to manage an inclusive classroom without perceiving students with special needs as a hindrance to their success is needed. Competencies and role confusion occur when the work scope is undefined or changed without the development of new skills. In this case, some educators join the workforce believing that they will only have to teach in traditional classroom settings (Hatzichristou and Rosenfield, 2017). Students have not been diagnosed with any disability. As stated by Robin et al. (2019), the educational requirement for teaching primary education is a bachelor’s degree. Additionally, those who are leading the special education pupils must also have proficiency in “‘student learning and development,’ ‘general teaching competence,’ and ‘special education” (p. 7). Refresher courses every year can help to narrow the knowledge gap among these professionals.
Children with special needs should receive extra tutoring in some areas to be at the same level as other students. When schooling children, the instructor needs to “exert extra effort to study the case of the child and put it into action” (De La Cruz, 2020, p. 146). Extra time can be scheduled in the morning or evening to enable them to be at the same level as other students. Alternatively, there can be two teachers during the session so that one gives instructions from the front while the other sits near the pupil with autism to provide further assistance.
Teachers’ assessment and review should be done on a continuous basis and in consideration of the challenges in class. Moreover, people who evaluate teachers should have competencies in teaching an inclusive classroom. It is essential to constitute laws that will not be demoralizing to the educators. The police should aim to protect the integrity of the profession while seeking better ways of improvement. This is important since school administrations have not yet provided a standard of practice in an inclusive setting. The sincerity of the challenges, such as children with autism disrupting others, should be known without blaming the educators.
Standardized tests should be abolished to remove power imbalances between abled and disabled students. The idea that are generally accepted that students who pass exams are promoted to the next class while those with lower performance are retained should be changed. The current state of the education sector is having “economically-driven policy tied to ensuring financial gain for the school itself” (Perez 2014, p. 77). Given the individual differences of the students, it is apparent that a single exam cannot be fair to all. Moreover, the curriculum was designed by hegemonic neoliberal ideals whose focus was just on the able students. The new principle will ensure that pupils are graded when they show progress based on what they have been taught.
The structure of the mainstream schools should be retained, but adjustments should be made for additional services. The challenges experienced by tutors in inclusive classrooms will be reduced by making changes such as having individualized learning trajectories, parental consultation, and smaller class sizes (Robin et al., 2019). The ideal policy will provide a well-defined scope for tutoring to prevent instructors from getting burnout and stress due to overloading.
The decision to include students with special needs in mainstream classes has resulted in several challenges for educators and pupils. In the incident provided in this paper, a teacher removes a child who has autism from class during assessments. He was afraid that the child would cause disruption. Although the decision was rational, a number of ethical issues emerge which directly touch on universal rights. The learners who have disabilities are still rejected and isolated. The integrity of teacher evaluation is also compromised, and hegemony and power imbalances are depicted in the experience. Through the incident, various gaps have been identified and lessons learned for policy and practice recommendations.
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