Autism: Inclusion vs. Separation

Thank You Boys and Girls Club

Jonah and Josiah’s daily interaction are the inspiration for Art-Is-Umm: The Way To Heal. Through this project I have been able to think deeper about the differences in how special needs and neurotypical children learn in diverse settings. Recently, I experienced one of Oprah’s famous Aha moments.

For years, I opposed the Special Needs exclusion system. Before you judge let me take you further. Jonah went through the Early Childhood Development program, which I must admit demonstrated progress. When Jonah aged out of the program we decided to have him attend a local sensory gym.

I was disappointed. Not necessarily with the staff because in my opinion they were great. Unfortunately after sitting in on sessions, I noticed that Jonah was picking up behaviors typical of other special needs children. My next statement is difficult to write because of the potential scrutiny it may undergo.

Jonah and Mom share an embrace on July 4th during the fireworks.

Jonah and Mom share an embrace on July 4th during the fireworks.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is unique to each child. They each have unique quirks, successes, and ways of coping with their surroundings. He definitely enjoyed himself while there and socially he was able to understand the routine of learning to wait his turn and share among his peers. However in the case of Jonah’s overall development, I surely did not need to add new tantrums to his already vast repertoire of behaviors. I was extremely bothered. I decided to stop taking him.

Very few options are available during the summer for special needs care in our area (either extremely expensive, far away, or no hours of operation that coincided with two working parents schedules). My wife and I were at a loss and the option to take a leave of absence was not financially feasible.

So we needed to think outside the box. The previous summer Josiah attended the Boys and Girls Club, which he loved. We were unsure whether they accepted special needs children and at first were hesitant to ask. All we thought was “how will Jonah cope in this inclusive setting? What if he is the only special needs child…will they know how or want to cope with his behavior?” To our surprise, the directors of the program were more than happy to have Jonah attend.

The first two-weeks we continued to search for special needs summer programs as we were apprehensive. I was certain that the relationship between the Boys and Girls Club and Jonah would end shortly; but I was wrong. Jonah seemed to have a wonderful summer. He had a one-on-one, but also mingled with neurotypical children as well as the few special needs children that attend the summer program.

At the start of the school year we scheduled a meeting with Jonah’s new kindergarten teacher who had worked with him in the previous scholastic extended care program. She was aware of Jonah’s strengths but fully aware of the struggles he faced in social settings. We are still surprised by her statement.

“He is a different Jonah,” she said. “I don’t know what you all did with Jonah over the summer, but keep doing it.”

Josiah and Jonah pose for the camera after summer camp at The Boys and Girls Club.

Josiah and Jonah pose for the camera after summer camp at The Boys and Girls Club.

I am not and cannot be against the need for separate classrooms for special needs children. After all many special needs children need smaller classroom settings so that they can have more focused attention. They need teachers who are willing to work with their diverse needs and can strengthen their skills. However, I believe a strong balance between inclusion and special needs education is vital to the success of ASD children.

Written by Derrick Small. Edited by Nareida Fleming. For more information contact

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