Autism a complex developmental disability

Autism often brings to mind a non-verbal, non-emotional, severe behavioral problem child. Some people think that autistic children cannot love and cannot be loved.  This is extremely far from the truth.  For one thing, everyone can be loved, it’s just up to people to decide if they want to love that person or not.  Most people dislike what they don’t understand, and most people haven’t got a clue what autism is.  Many different levels of autism exist.  No two autistic people are alike: although they may have some of the same symptoms, they all have something unique about them.

Teachers and parents wonder whether autistic children should be in regular classrooms or not.  They have a lot of questions. For example, teachers wonder if the autistic child will disrupt the class to the point where it’s very hard for them to teach the other students.  Parents that have an autistic child have concerns about whether or not a regular classroom is going to give their child what they need in order for their child to get the best education that they can.  But what most people don’t realize is that all children learn differently than one another (Maurice 35). The main thing is that people need to educate themselves and other people about autism so they can understand it and know whether or not it’s a good thing to have an autistic child in a regular classroom.


Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. It is a result of a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain.  “Autism and its associated behaviors have been estimated to occur in as many as 1 in 500 individuals, autism is four times more prevalent in boys as it is in girls and knows no racial, ethnic or social boundaries (Autism Society of America).”  This disorder impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication skills.  “Children and adults with autism typically have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities.  The disorder makes it hard for them to communicate with others and relate to the outside world (Maurice 11).” In some cases, aggressive behavior toward others or themselves may be present.  In addition to it being a behavioral syndrome, autism is also a developmental disability.  This means that the person with autism is likely to be disabled for life.  “People with autism may exhibit repeated body movements (hand flapping or rocking), unusual responses to people, attachments to objects, and resistance to changes in routine (Harris 26).”  Individuals may also experience sensitivity in the five senses.  This definition of autism is just the general symptoms, most autistic children just have some of these and they are not as severe.  A child with autism could have great communication skills but have very bad temper tantrums.  Another autistic child could have very bad communication skills but have very minor temper tantrums and have repeated body movements like rocking.


“Autism occurs along a continuum. One end of the continuum includes people with autism who are severely or profoundly mentally retarded and need constant care and support (Behavioral treatment).”  The people who fit this description are the ones who would not do well in a regular classroom and they would just be a disruption.  Severe autistic people most likely will not and can not do things for themselves; they have to have constant supervision.  “While at the other end are people of above-average intelligence with college degrees or higher level of formal education who live independently in their own homes.  Individuals with autism vary greatly in their intellectual capacity, social skills, and ability to cope with the everyday demands of society (Behavioral Treatment).”  This type of autism is known as mildly autistic. These people would be better off in a regular classroom and would add positive learning to the class.  Most mildly autistic people are extremely intelligent and they would not slow down a regular classroom at all (Harris 25-27). Lorna Wing, a leading researcher in autism, identified three major types of social interactions in the autistic population.  The types are the aloof group, the passive group, and the active but odd group.  You can’t classify each autistic child in these three groups because some autistic children may have symptoms that are in all three groups.  Autistic children can also develop and be more like a different group then they were before (Gerdtz, Bregman 20-23). For example one year a child could have more symptoms of an aloof and then the next year they could seem to act more like a child in the active but odd group.


Members of the aloof group tend to be non-verbal and remain so for life.  If they develop speech their verbal skills are usually very limited to single words or phrases.  People in the aloof group spend hours in solitary, repetitive activities, and are very dependent on schedules and routines.  This group seems to have the majority of behavioral problems. Some may include bizarre noises and gestures, temper tantrums, self-injury, assault, and property destruction.  However, only a relatively small minority of the group will show these behaviors on a severe or frequent basis.  At times, the behaviors may be brought on by a change or interruption in routine, at other times there may be no apparent cause (Gerdtz, Bregman 21,22). People in this group would have a lot of problems in a regular classroom.  They would most likely disrupt the class a lot and make it hard for the other students to concentrate.  The teacher would most likely have a hard time because their attention would have to be more on the autistic child than the other students are.  If the autistic child had aid in class with them, it probably wouldn’t be as bad but they would still have some problems.


Members of the passive group seem to be less resistant to social and physical contact then the aloof group.  People in the passive group take part in some group activities; however, they will rarely seek out social contact.  The passive group is also generally caught up in routines and schedules but they will react less strongly than people classified in the aloof group if the routines are interrupted.  Although passive group people can exhibit behavioral problems these behaviors tend to be of a lesser intensity and severity than those of the aloof group.  They usually fit in well in a variety of educational and training programs, while members of the other two groups are more likely to need special programs for individuals with autism (Gerdtz, Bregman 22).  If the autistic children in the group were not allowed to be in a regular class it would be wrong.  These children are already somewhat social and they like to be around others.  So if they were to go to a school just for other disabled children it would harm them more then help them, because autistic children pick up habits very easily, whether they’re good habits or bad ones.  If they were to go to a regular school they would most likely pick up better communication skills and positive habits.


The active but odd group is more likely to develop speech then members of the previous two groups and may demonstrate extensive vocabulary.  However, they still need the routine and structure exhibited by the other two groups. There may be some behavioral problems as well.  They often find a single interest in such things as dates and calendars, staff schedules, certain types of people, types of automobiles, etc. This interest is pursued so relentlessly that they may tend to exclude virtually everything else (Gerdtz, Bregman 22, 23).  People in this group will often, with single-minded determination, approach complete strangers and ask a single question over and over, or launch a barrage of questions about a favored topic.  In some cases, they will get upset or angry if the wrong answer is given. If an active but odd child was to be in a regular classroom their communication skills would get better because they would have other children all around them that love to talk.  Part of the reason why they have behavioral problems is that no one understands them so if their communication skills get better so will their behavior.


There is also what is called Kanner’s autism.  People with this have near-normal IQ scores, may be educated to the college or graduate level and may often live independently in the community.  Even though individuals with Kanner’s autism may have good vocabularies and excellent verbal skills in certain situations, these people still have many of the difficulties associated with the syndrome of autism (Educating the Student with Autism).  There are no ifs and’s or but’s about Kanner autism children.  They are so intelligent it would be a disaster if they went to a school for just disabled children. They wouldn’t be challenged at all and the teachers would have a hard time keeping them busy and then they would start to act up.  Their behavioral problems would most likely worsen. A Kanner autistic would have to be in a regular classroom so they could be challenged.


In many cases, an autistic child would not be able to be in a regular classroom because of their behavioral problems and other reasons.  But there are a lot of autistic children that would do very well in a regular classroom. In a lot of cases, autistic children have become more social because they were in a regular classroom (Behavioral Treatment). Putting an autistic child in a classroom full of other autistic children it would be a disaster.  There is no way an autistic child could learn communication skills in a class filled with other autistic children with the same problem.  Now if you put an autistic child in a class full of regular children they are more likely to develop more communication skills.  Also with an autistic child in a regular classroom, the other children will learn more about how everyone is different in some kind of way, and that it is ok to be different (Educating the Student with Autism).


Many parents with autistic children have a hard time dissuading if their child should go to a regular school or not. A lot of teachers don’t know if they can handle having an autistic child in their classroom.  Here’s a story that just might change their mind about any doubt they might have.  There is a boy named Adam he is 7 years old and he has autism.  His parents struggled to try to figure out whether he should go to a regular school or not.  They did a lot of research and talked to many schools and special education directors to figure out what was best for Adam.  They soon decided to put Adam in an all-day preschool/daycare when he was four.  His communication skills improved greatly.  Adam was saying very little before he started the all-day daycare.  Just in that year, Adams vocabulary tripled.  Adam is a high functioning autistic, which means he will most likely lead a near-normal life.  Adam is extremely intelligent, he just has problems communicating but he is improving on a day to day basis.  When Adam was in kindergarten he would go to a school just for children with disabilities and then in the afternoon he would go to kindergarten in a regular classroom.  Adam’s mother, Sandra said, “ Adam picked up bad behaviors and skills from the other disabled children.  Since he is above average academically it was very hard for the teachers to keep Adam busy and he was not being challenged academically (Sandra interview).”  Adam is now in first grade and he is in a regular classroom but he does have aid in class with him.   Adam is doing very well in his class and all the other children love him.  His teacher has even said that the way Adam needs to be taught in order for him to understand has also helped the other students learn better.  Because of the way he is teaching now is more structured, more visual, and laetrile (John Interview).  Adam’s teacher and his family have all said that Adam is nothing but a blessing.  For me, as his cousin, he has taught me more about myself than anyone.  If anyone were to say that he would not do well in a regular classroom they would be wrong.


Autism is a disorder it is not a disease. You can’t cure someone with autism but you can help them learn.  If someone puts 20 children with behavioral problems and bad habits in the same classroom what do you think would happen?  Well, most likely they are going to learn from each other and pick up more bad habits and behavioral problems.  So why would it be good for an autistic child to be in a classroom with all autistic children?  It would be a complete disaster.  Children with autism need to be in a class with regular students so they can learn from them and pick up good habits and better communication skills and a lot of other things.   By putting an autistic child in a regular class it will teach the other students that everyone is different in there own way and that it’s ok to be different.  Autistic children are not a burden to the classroom they are a blessing.


Work Cited

Gerdtz,John, and Joel Bregman,M.D. Autism A Practical Guide For Those Who Help Others New York, NY 1990

Grandin, Temple, and Margaret M. Scariano Emergence Labeled Autistic Novato, CA 1986

Harris, Sandra Siblings of Children with Autism Woodbine House Inc. 1994

Maurice, Catherine Let me hear your voice New York, NY 1993

Montgomery, Sandra Personal Interview 11/4/2000

Smith, John Personal Interview 11/12/2000

Autism Society of America

Behavioral Treatment and Normal Educational and Intellectual Funtions in Young Autistic Children

Charter School Praised, but Future is Uncertain  By: Tom Troy Aug. 7, 2000

Educating the Student with Autism


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