Effective Strategies for the Inclusion of Children with Autism in General Education Classes

As September approaches, you may be thinking about your child’s upcoming school year. An article written by Crosland and Dunlap recently appeared in the Behavior Modification journal describing research based strategies for including children with ASD in general education classrooms. This article was a review of an earlier article written by Harrower and Dunlap ten years previously. Some of the individualized interventions identified included the use of antecedent procedures. Priming, prompt delivery, and visual schedules are all examples of antecedent procedures. These proactive strategies involve making changes to something in the child’s environment to either cause the desired response to occur or decrease the likelihood that the undesirable response will occur.

Offering students an opportunity to see the activity before they are asked to engage in it is an example of priming. For example, a teacher may provide the student with books to read about a country before the topic is introduced to the whole class or preview the schedule of activities before a school assembly so that the student is prepared. The use of video or internet technology can also assist students be prepared for field trips to unfamiliar places.

Prompting strategies support the student’s ability to be successful and therefore motivated to try tasks that may be new or difficult. Prompts can be offered either by school staff or peers. Studies show that they are both effective in increasing appropriate behaviour. In one study, prompting by peers in social interaction situations increased the interactions with students with ASD and more importantly was generalized to other home and school settings.

The use of visual schedules in a school setting has been found to increase predictability thereby increasing student independence and reducing the possibility of problem behaviour. A positive outcome of this approach according to one study was evidence of increased on-task and on-scheduling responding .

Another important strategy to assist in the development of independent academic functioning is the ability to perform without continuous adult supervision and reinforcement. The results of several studies indicated that students did better in being on task and productive when their supervision schedules were unpredictable.

Teaching students to self manage their behaviour has a similar effect with regard to increasing on-task behaviour and also increasing their independence skills. Students can be taught to select their own goals, observe and record their behaviour and give themselves reinforcement. A positive side effect of this process is usually increased interaction with peers and involvement with classroom activities as they are more able to function without adult support.

A sixth strategy that contributes to the effective inclusion of students in general education classrooms is peer mediation. Peer mediators are socially competent peers who are taught techniques to interact socially with their peers with autism to increase the peer’s social and academic competence.

Problem behaviour is often one of the barriers to inclusion in general education classrooms. Positive behaviour support is now the recommended intervention strategy to use to address problem behaviour. This well-researched approach consists of conducting a functional behaviour assessment to identify the function or purpose of the behaviour from the student’s perspective then designing intervention strategies to address the behaviour of concern. The intervention plan based on the assessment generally includes introducing antecedent strategies such as those identified at the beginning of this article as well as teaching the student alternate appropriate ways to get their needs met such as teaching the use a picture communication system, social or self management skills.

A document provided by the British Columbia Ministry of Education on their website Teaching Students with Autism: A Resource Guide for Schools which can be found at www.bced.gov.bc.ca also has information about supporting students with autism in general education classrooms.

Crosland, K & Dunlap, D (2012). Effective strategies for the inclusion of children with autism in general education classrooms. Behaviour Modification, 36(3), 251-269.