We saw yesterday that quite a few children with special educational needs in this country are educated at home. According to some research, they could account for as many as a third of home educated children. If so, this might suggest that something like thirty thousand children with special needs are at home, rather than being taught at school. Christine, who knows a good deal about this subject, said that the largest group are those on the autistic spectrum and this seems to tie in with anecdotal evidence from various sources.
A common reason for deregistering ASD children from school is that the experience of school is too distressing for them. Classrooms can be noisy and chaotic places and trying to connect with dozens of new and unknown people can be pretty awful for a child with autism. I am wondering whether this has anything to do with the trend for 'inclusion' in education. The idea behind inclusion is sound; nobody wishes to see a return to the schools for the blind such as the one which David Blunkett attended as a child. There is after all no reason why with suitable adaptations, a classroom cannot be made accessible to a child in a wheelchair. I am sure that we are all in favour of this. The case with autism though strikes me as a little different. Inclusion for these children typically means the local primary school, with the kid just joining the same class as everybody else, with perhaps a little support from a teaching assistant. Many sensitive children who are not on the autistic spectrum find the experience of nursery and school overwhelming; Lord knows what it must seem like to a child who is already hyper-sensitive to his environment.
I have been wondering whether this trend to stick ASD kids in ordinary classrooms like this, a trend which accelerated about fifteen or twenty years ago, has not caused many such children to find the whole business of school simply unendurable. In other words, if they were to have been placed in quiet classes with far fewer members and staff trained in the particular difficulties of autism, would they have adapted to school better and their parents have been less likely to remove them from school entirely? If so, then the policy of inclusion could in a sense be said to have fuelled the rise in home education over the last few years. I am aware that many parents who have removed their children due to problems like this say that it was the best move that they ever made, but I am curious to know whether or not their children might have thrived and accepted school if the nature of the whole thing were a little different. It is an odd coincidence that the numbers of children being educated at home should have soared at precisely the same time that many local authorities were instituting rigorous programmes of 'inclusion' in their schools.