Autism is a unique diagnosis. For a student who has been medically diagnosed with Autism, it is on the school district to provide the student with the least restrictive environment for academic success. In this case, the IEP was reasonably calculated, however, the IEP need to reflect what the school district can provide. According to McCloskey, “…the rightful obligation in the United States to educate all children who receive special education services in the least restrictive environment (LRE), to the maximum extent appropriate, requires that members of the child’s Committee on Special Education (CSE) team come to common understandings about terms such as ‘appropriate’ and ‘severity’ of a disability… school districts are mandated by law to suggest a variety of alternative placements so that teams have the chance to review educational contexts from least restrictive to more restrictive for each student in special education…”. For some students with autism spectrum disorder, the general education curriculum with some modifications will be appropriate. For others, major adaptations, such as a more functional academic approach may be needed. There is not one program that will meet the needs of all students on the autism spectrum.
Part of the IEP process is determining where students will receive special education. A continuing debate exist regarding the most appropriate educational setting in which exceptional students should be taught, most notably whether all students, regardless of the type or severity of their disability. The decision to remove a student from the general education classroom should be made only if the nature or severity of the disability precludes success in that environment, even with the additional of supplementary aids and services.
IDEA is designed to provide special education support services in the least restrictive environment. In many cases, this means that a student who is identified as having a special need will be served in the general education classroom unless there are justifiable reasons for the student to be educated in a special education setting. Research conducted by the U.S. Department of Education indicates that there has been an increasing trend to serve students with disabilities in the general education setting for most of the school day.
The implementation of least restrictive environment guidelines and, more specifically of inclusion mandates has been interpreted through litigation in several state and federal courts. In summary, the courts have interpreted that the least restrictive environment decision must first considered placement in a regular education environment with additional supplementary aids if needed. In the general education environment will be equal to or better than the special education setting for the student, she or he should be placed in the regular classroom with typically developing peers. The student’s academic and nonacademic needs must be considered in any placement decision.
To be an effective program, instructional practices should be routine and structured. Many students with autism spectrum disorders are very attuned to structure and routine and are extremely affected by changes in the environment such as previously announced schedule changes or rearrangement of seats, even down to the moving of a computer.
Several court cases have resulted interpreting with greater clarity the term Least Restrictive Environment as it is used in special education. The movement toward inclusion as a method of providing the least restrictive environment has been found to be appropriate in some cases. Yell (1995) has offered a method that may assist IEP teams in making the determination of the appropriate educational environment that is based on the results of current interpretation within the judicial system. Knowledge transfer from researchers to the classroom has shown little impact on improving educational outcomes for children, to the extent that there have been much stronger calls for the closer involvement of educational professionals as ‘active agents’ rather than ‘passive participants’ in research.
One of the major challenges relates to how teachers can be empowered to establish knowledge in ways that allow them to capture, compare and develop more in-depth perspectives as a basis for innovation within the educational practices. The SHAPE project shows that the methodological process and the practice of developing digital stories may enable the creation of new forms of situated evidence that is meaningful to researchers and practitioners, thus enabling better understanding of the interrelationships between people, pedagogy and technology (Abbott, 2007) Many of the findings of the SHAPE project are of relevance to mainstream education and the challenges that cut across different forms of educational support and practice. Specifically, not all teachers and schools are ready or willing to be knowledge co-creators in the way that we envisaged. Researchers and schools needed to develop more sustained and sustainable, trusting and mutually reinforcing partnerships (Parsons et al., 2013) in order to enable more opportunities for genuinely collaborative, insightful educational practices that both critically inform and are informed by the evidence base.
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