Inclusive Programs for Children with Autism: Designed for Kids? Or for Their Parents?

What do kids with low vision or blindness need to successfully navigate and make sense of a new environment?  How about children who can't hear?  Or children in wheelchairs?  I'll bet you could come up with a short, appropriate list of accommodations that would work well for the vast majority of youngsters with those physical challenges.

Now: what accommodations would you put into place to make, say, the local children's museum accessible to and inclusive of families with autistic children?

What makes it so hard to develop the "right" accommodations is that kids, teens and adults with autism diagnoses share so little.  Unlike people with low vision who all have...  low vision...  people with autism may be intellectually challenged or geniuses.  They make love loud noise or hate it.  They may have all the patience in the world, or none at all.  They may be good readers or poor readers.  They may enjoy spending time with others, or need quiet solitude.

In many ways, therefore, they are as diverse as the neurotypical population.

Perhaps that's why so many programs for "children with autism" don't really cater to the needs of children with autism at all.  Instead, they cater to the needs of the children's parents.

Parents of children with autism often enjoy special times set aside when they can bring their children with and without autism to take part in ordinary family activities.  The special "autism events" mean that autistic behaviors or melt downs will be more easily tolerated by other parents in the area, and it might even be possible to meet other parents with similar world-views and experiences.  No one will stare, no one will judge, and no one will kick you out because your child is misbehaving.

Children with autism have none of these concerns.  As children, it isn't really their job to worry about the social judgements of adults they've never met.  As kids with autism, it may be irrelevant who else is in the building, how their parents feel about the other people in the building, or how the staff in the building feels about them.

Meanwhile, kids with autism have different concerns.  Some are turned off by the bright lights and loud noise that are still part of the environment.  Others find the crowd of parents and kids to be too intense.  Others are confused by the experience and would have benefited from a preview video.  Some kids melt down quickly in a new place, while others run without really attending to what's around them.  A few have a terrific time -- probably the same few that would have had a terrific time during normal visiting hours.

If organizations cater, not to the needs of kids with autism, but to their parents, perhaps it isn't their fault.  Even THINKING about autism is a huge step forward -- but more importantly, there are few guidelines, tools, models or research studies to suggest "how to include kids or adults with autism in the community."  Perhaps it's time to start thinking about opportunities for learning more.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks so much for commenting! If you';d like to take part in an ongoing conversation about topics in this blog, please join us at the ;Authentic Inclusion Facebook page:


Lisa Jo Rudy

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.