The government appointed therapists for my son (and gosh there have been a lot of them), have always strongly encouraged us to see mainstream schooling as the best option for him. Not because he was skilled enough to go to a mainstream school, but because of the following three reasons, each of which have come up in conversations with them over the past two years:
(1) That children all have their challenges; that mental and physical disabilities are all just a spectrum that all children suffer from to some degree. So my son’s language, sensory and physical disabilities caused by his Autism, are just versions of issues all children suffer from anyway.
(2) That children with disabilities can learn a lot of positive things from the “normal” children around them, such as social and language skills (have you noticed already how this second reason doesn’t sit well with the first..?).
I’m hoping that as you read through that list you can see some serious flaws with the premises or conclusions of each. To do each justice I’ll be splitting their discussion into separate posts to come later (use the links that have been added above). Let me say at this point that we have decided as a family that the best place for our son to be is at a Special Needs School. We didn’t just make that decision based on theories and arguments – though they were a central part of it of course. We also visited both our local mainstream and special needs schools to see with our own eyes.
The best way to approach any child’s education is to see them as an individual – not as “normal” or “Autistic” or even as a “5 year old”. The central considerations have to be their individual developmental stage at the time. In this area at the least, mainstream schooling seems to be falling behind special needs schooling. The key is surely to have options in the education system. One size does not fit all.