BY KAYDEE DWYER
In elementary school, students aren’t just taught to read, write, or count; they are also taught how to interact with one another. In a “normal” classroom, each student is neurotypical, meaning someone is not on the autism spectrum, while in another classroom there are students who are neurodiverse, meaning they are on the autism spectrum – but why? Why in a classroom does there have to be separation between students with and without autism, and who does it benefit?
The short answer is, nobody. The separation of students at such a young age creates such a stigma in their mind. The thought that, if they aren’t allowed in their classroom, “there must be something wrong with them.” Teachers still continue to tell their students to “respect everyone,” and “treat everyone how you wish to be treated,” and that should apply to everyone. Not just people who they’re familiar with. In high schools, we see all the time that students with autism or other disabilities are welcomed into other classrooms, but this is not the same for elementary schools. So why not?
Routinely, autistic students are not in classrooms with other students because there is a belief that it leads to student-on-student bullying. Teachers, parents, and administrators tend to believe their students will treat special education students differently or make them feel like outcasts. Although this fear is reasonable and recognized, it is important for both groups of students to be included and brought together. Students with autism are more likely to feel included in a larger group when in a more “typical” classroom, and students without disabilities are going to become accustomed to those who are different from what the “norm” is – or what they have been taught the “norm” is.
Caleb James, coach and a case manager for Truman says, “I believe it is a good idea to connect students with special education students at a young age. Growing up and learning in an environment that includes all different types of children will help them be prepared to live and interact in a world with all different types of people.” Case management, the process of working with students who have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) in a learning environment, is an imperative part of making this happen for elementary schools. There needs to be more connections between both special education students on any part of the spectrum, students with physical disabilities, and students who you always see representing the school – interesting how that works, right?
If the ISD wants “more diversity” in their education system, there needs to be connections between all kinds of students, with or without disabilities. It’s off-putting to have just neurotypical students, or students who don’t present as the “norm,” to represent us as a district and open community for all kinds of students. As elementary school students age, they are going to be more exposed to different kinds of people, and it’s the job of the administrators and teachers to teach them kindness and respect to all kinds of people. Not having more disability representation in our classrooms and schools, even at a young age, seems to hold back students a lot more, closing them off from the world in an odd way.