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What Does it Mean to “Mainstream” a Student with Autism?

Autism is a condition that typically is detected in children by the time they reach the age of three. Autism impacts a child’s ability to communicate and socialize. The manner in which autism affects a child’s communication and socialize varies from individual to individual. Moreover, the severity of autism also varies from one person to another. For these reasons, people identified as having autism are placed on what is known as a spectrum. Because children with autism are on a spectrum, their educational needs vary, including the type of classroom setting they are placed in. These facts and factors raise the question of what does it mean to “mainstream” a student with autism?

Related resource: Top 25 Master’s in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Online

Mainstreaming Students with Autism and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

In contemplating the mainstreaming of students on the autism spectrum, the first place to turn is to ascertain what legally is required.

According to federal law, any student with special needs is to be placed in the least restrictive educational environment, according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This federal mandate extends to students with autism.

As a consequence of this law, students on the autism spectrum are to be mainstreamed into a general classroom whenever possible. Mainstreaming into a general classroom can look differently depending on the specific abilities and needs of a student on the autism spectrum.

Methods for Mainstreaming a Student with Autism

There are students on the elementary, middle, and high school levels that are one the autism spectrum but who are able to function well with their peers and others. In other words, the manner in which they communicate and socialize allows them the ability to function well in a general classroom setting.

For a good many students on the autism spectrum, mainstreaming necessitates more than merely placing a child into a general classroom without some type of assistance or reasonable accommodation. In these types of situations, mainstreaming a student with autism means placing a child in a general classroom but buttressing his or her educational experience with supportive resources.

These resources come in an array of different forms and include everything from a specially trained educational paraprofessional to permitting a student with autism to work on certain tasks independently from the classroom as a whole.

The bottom line in regard to mainstreaming a student with autism is that an individual plan is made for that student. The plan is the product of cooperation, consultation, and discussion between teachers, administrators, parents, and other professionals. A student on the autism spectrum can be brought into the process of creating a plan, depending on that child’s age as well as abilities and desire to participate in the planning process.

Creativity has become something of the order of the day when it comes to mainstreaming and accommodating students on the autism spectrum, a trend that is expected to continue into the future. This includes taking full advantage of technology whenever possible. For example, a mainstreamed student on the autism spectrum may supplement his or her learning experience through the use of online educational opportunities in addition to what is offered in a traditional mainstream classroom setting.