The rising number of students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in schools, and the unique characteristics of these students, has led many educators and parents to question the types of programs and strategies that are most effective in supporting them to achieve within school climates and curriculum of the early 21st century. Moreover, educators and parents must sort through the plethora of information and reports of interventions and treatments claiming to treat or cure autism in order to determine what strategies will best support their children or students. A number of studies have focused on determining the evidence base of specific practices for students on the autism spectrum. However, only a few have investigated the applicability of these strategies in inclusive school environments or specifically employed strategies to address academic needs. This has created a research-to-practice gap for educators working with students on the autism spectrum in inclusive school settings. More promising are studies which have highlighted elements of effective practice in education programs. An analysis of this research reveals four principles of best practice for schools and educators working with students on the autism spectrum: provision of a supportive and structured learning environment for staff and students; consistent provision of child-centered and evidence-based curriculum and instruction; multidisciplinary engagement and collaboration; and meaningful communication and collaboration between families and schools. These principles provide a framework for teachers and parents to work alongside students on the autism spectrum to plan, implement and evaluate strategies that can be embedded and implemented in the class program and are effective in supporting the specific needs of individual students on the autism spectrum.
Amanda A. Webster
It is important to consider inclusive and effective teacher practices in secondary classrooms as distinct from other schooling levels and settings. Many years of inclusive education reforms have brought about increases in the numbers of students with disabilities who are educated in the regular school system. However, progress has been slower for secondary school students with disabilities, who remain more likely to be segregated from their peers and to receive a poorer-quality education, when compared to their primary school counterparts. This is because many barriers to student inclusion remain entrenched in the structure and organization of secondary schooling systems. These barriers often arise from seeing difficulties in learning and participating through a medical model and thus requiring diagnostic verification and specialist support, instead of seeing student difficulties in learning as arising from a social model of disability, in which student participation and progress are hampered by poor design or inflexibility in teaching practices and a lack of access to support. A large body of research exists to support the case for using a range of school-wide organization as well as classroom-based practices that effectively overcome these barriers, and provide high-quality and equitable academic and social supports to all students in the secondary school classroom. Those that foster collaboration and effective relationships between professionals and students, and that provide access to support on the basis of need rather than diagnosis, have been found to produce supportive environments in which diversity is valued, equity is maximized for all students, and social and academic outcomes are improved for all students.
With the rise in inclusive practices, information on evidence-based practices for teaching learners with mild to moderate disabilities is an important topic. Many professional and government organizations are working to disseminate this information to educators; however, the process can be thwarted by time, resources, training, and implementation of practices. By using multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) such as response to intervention (RtI) or positive behavior interventions and support (PBIS), schools can assess for, identify, and implement supports for all learners. If a learner continues to encounter challenges, even with high-quality teaching and strategies, then a more intensive intervention may be needed. One schoolwide change would be to use universal design for learning (UDL) to ensure strategies and supports are provided to all learners. Additionally, students may benefit from assistive technology. Teachers can learn about free and commercial evidence-based educational practices to create a safe environment, implement positive behavioral supports, and provide systematic, explicit instruction in academic areas of reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social sciences.
Students identified with emotional and behavioral disorders (E/BD) comprise a diverse group in terms of academic, social, emotional, and behavioral strengths and needs. Identification and diagnostic criteria and terminologies vary widely across and within many countries and school systems, resulting in a complex research base. Estimates of prevalence range from 4 to 15% of students meeting criteria for an emotional and/or behavioral disorder or difficulty. Approaches to teaching learners with E/BD have shifted since the turn of the 21st century from an individual, deficit-focused perspective to a more ecological framework where the environments interacting dynamically with the learner are considered. Research increasingly demonstrates the benefits of multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) where the needs of most students can be met through universal preventative and whole-class approaches. Students who do not find success at the first level of supports receive increasingly specialized services including intensive, wraparound services that involve partners beyond school walls. MTSS are common across North America and beyond and are typically focused on externalizing behaviors; positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) is the most prevalent multi-tiered system currently being implemented. Since the mid-2000s, efforts have been made to focus on academic as well as behavioral goals for students, often through the inclusion of response-to-intervention approaches. Comprehensive strategies that combine academic and behavioral support while drawing on learner strengths and relationship-building are successfully being adopted in elementary and secondary settings. Approaches include social and emotional learning, mindfulness, peer-assisted learning, and a range of classroom-based instructional and assessment practices that support the academic, social, and emotional development of students with E/BD.