2.3 Inclusion and supporting autistic learners

The focus of this module and the Autism Toolbox is autism, but there is also an important focus on inclusive practice. Many of the highlighted approaches and resources are universal and inclusive by design and will help a range of different needs.

Scotland’s education system is designed to be an inclusive one for all children and young people with or without additional support needs to thrive in their community. This approach contributes to all children and young people’s understanding and appreciation of diversity and helps to build a more just and inclusive society. However, achieving this requires collaboration and support.

‘The central message is simple: every learner matters and matters equally. The complexity arises, however, when we try to put this message into practice. Implementing this message will likely require changes in thinking and practice at every level of an education system, from classroom teachers and others who provide educational experiences directly, to those responsible for national policy’.

(A Guide for ensuring inclusion and equity in education, p. 12, UNESCO. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ ark:/ 48223/ pf0000248254)

To ensure that the needs of all children and young people, including those who are autistic, can be met as effectively as possible, it is important to retain diversity of provision, with mainstream education being complemented by special schools and specialist units.

Inclusive practice is important whatever the setting, whether it be within a mainstream or special school. There are four key features of inclusion that can be used to set expectations and evaluate inclusive practice in schools and early learning and childcare settings. The four key features of inclusion within the Scottish educational context are highlighted in Figure 8.

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Figure 8 Four key features of inclusion for learners

Together these four features support the delivery of inclusive learning environments for all children and young people that enable them to reach their full potential. Some aspects of the four features may interlink. For example, children and young people must be present in order to participate, so as a result, elements of practice associated with the key features may also overlap.

Activity 4

In your Reflective Log, note what the four key features of inclusion should mean for autistic learners.

Select here to see some examples.

  • Receiving a full-time education, including flexible approaches to meet their needs.
  • Receiving the appropriate understanding and support to ensure attendance at the ELC/school.
  • Learning in environments which best meet their needs.
  • Being able to engage fully in the life of their school, through the inclusive ethos, culture and values of the school.
  • Not experiencing exclusions and seclusion.
  • Be able to have their voices heard in decisions about their education including decisions on where they learn.
  • Participation does not only refer to schoolwork and homework but also it reflects wider school and community involvement.
  • Full involvement in the life of the school through events, trips, school plays, sports and community events.
  • Feeling included as a peer, forming firm relationships and friendships, and developing the skills for lifelong learning and success.
  • Receiving the understanding and support required to engage in meaningful learning experiences.
  • Flexible and adaptive curriculum – enabling the learner to engage in opportunities for personal achievement and attainment to help them reach their full potential.
  • Staff developing an understanding of autism and the needs of their autistic learners.
  • Benefiting from the ethos and culture of a school which has inclusive learning and teaching practices and relationships.
  • Experiencing the right help, at the right time, from the right people, to support their wellbeing in the right place.
  • Appropriate adaptations made to the classroom/school environment.

Each school community is unique and variants will depend on certain factors, for example:

  • geographical location
  • the needs of learners in the school
  • the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD)
  • ethos
  • engagement levels from within and outside the school.

An inclusive school ethos for autistic learners, indeed for all children and young people, includes the creation of supportive learning environments and adapting learning environments to specific needs. Creating a positive learning environment through positive relationships and behaviour is the responsibility of everyone in each community of learning.

To help autistic learners feel safe, healthy and happy, active, nurtured, achieving, respected, responsible and included, all staff need to consider their own understanding of autism and inclusive practice, their approaches, and their style of learning and teaching. This will include:

  • Genuine and effective learner participation.
  • Educational planning and provision of the school curriculum, learning and teaching resources, approaches and all activities.
  • Collaborative partnerships with parents and other professionals, including the full range of allied health professionals, to ensure that children's needs are appropriately identified and met.
  • Responding to the need for a social curriculum for autistic learners is an essential component of successful inclusion in any setting. By recognising the value of meaningful social learning, teachers will be enabling autistic learners to function in and contribute more effectively in their own communities. This will help them to develop the competencies that are central to Curriculum for Excellence – successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.

Many autistic learners only require minimal levels of support in class. Their needs will be met by a small number of reasonable adjustments within an inclusive classroom environment. This might include providing a visual timetable to enable them to better understand the structure of their day. A smaller number of autistic learners will need a more personalised, tailored approach.

Activity 5

In your Reflective Log, consider the following questions:

  1. How inclusive do I feel my practice is and how do I know?
  2. How inclusive do I feel my school community is and how do we know?

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2.2 Legislative and policy frameworks