To integrate or not to integrate...
Tony was my student at an early intervention center for children with special needs. After 3 terms, Tony was ready to be included into a mainstream preschool. Tony is diagnosed with autism, is very intelligent but has severe tantrums when he doesn’t get his way.
He started going to preschool in the morning and came to the early intervention center in the afternoon. After starting preschool, Tony seemed unsettled and his tantrums had taken a turn for the worse. This went on for three weeks. When I asked the parents how he was doing at preschool, the parents said that his class teacher claimed he was doing well. I then decided to visit Tony’s preschool to observe him in his new setting. In the preschool class Tony was allowed to walk freely about and was exempted from classroom activities. He only sat with his peers at snack time. Interactions between classmates were not encouraged. Tony seemed to be in his own world.
When we asked, the teacher, in her defense, she said, “When he has an outburst we don’t know what to do. It disrupts and halts my class lessons. It is unfair to the other children.” I then suggested that I would work together with the preschool to include Tony. The preschool was initially hesitant to involve me but conceded finally. I provided information on how to include Tony and how to manage his behaviour. However, after a few months, the preschool still felt Tony should attend a special school and managed him out.
In the example above, the preschool and the teacher were lost and afraid to challenge Tony because of his outbursts. I realized that they probably felt unprepared and that they might do more harm than good.
It is difficult to decide the right course of action. I think it so important to consider both the environment and the ability of the child to navigate in an environment. Sometimes even good intentions can have negative outcomes. Integration, when all parties are ready and able can be successful but can be traumatic to all if not.