According to IDEA (The Individuals with Disability Education Act), assigning children to the least restrictive environment (LRE) is a mandate with flexibility. It does not require that a child is “mainstreamed” if it is not in the child’s best interests. How that is determined, however, may not give proper weight to the issue of self-esteem.
A parent whose 12 year old son had spent the better part of his school years in self-contained or semi-self-contained classrooms with an aide. When he entered 7th grade, it was decided by his team (including his parents) that he was ready to transition to “regular” classes, albeit with an aide. This did not work out. He seemed more anxious, his behaviors increased, and he wasn’t sleeping well. He would say that he liked his old classroom better, but his parents wanted to give him time to adjust. After a couple of months, the IEP had to be revised.
My grandson’s enthusiasm for school is obvious. Every morning, he rushes to get there. Sam, who is in kindergarten, is in a mostly self-contained environment. His special education teachers have told us that he loves to take care of the other kids – some of whom are non-verbal; and he often is the only one who answers questions of an academic nature. Sam has made remarkable strides this year in every area of functioning, but what is particularly notable is that his interest in other children has increased. He used to run away when his cousins visited, but now he makes an effort to play with them. Could it be that his classroom confidence has generalized?
A special education teacher once told me that children who had spent a great deal of time in self-contained or mostly self-contained classrooms felt it was a safe haven for them. They could learn proper behavior in a non-threatening environment, where their behavior and its consequences didn’t get in the way of learning.
In light of these stories, the question must be asked: Are we giving enough consideration to a child’s self-esteem when determining an educational placement? Just because a child with ASD might seem to be unaware of others, or his own position in the school culture, doesn’t mean he is. I personally believe that self-esteem or lack thereof affects these children in the same way it affects everyone else.
Research has established that an inclusion classroom is beneficial, but such a classroom incorporates many factors that will determine how well a child succeeds in its environment – from the training of the teacher to the composition of the class, from the classroom surroundings to the number of children with an aide. It has to be a good fit, one that makes the child feel he is still in that “safe haven,” one that feeds his self-esteem.