Integration – Why is it needed and why is it so hard?

When I stop to think about it, Cameron really does have quite the support network now. My wife and I do our best but now he also has his teachers and therapists helping and then there’s also family and friends that have done so well at taking the time to learn and understand him too. It’s very little wonder that he’s been doing so well with so many great people giving him the guidance he needs.

But yesterday, at the IEP meeting with his school, there was one area of his development that we all realize he is ready for, that he needs help with and while the school is doing a good job of coming up with a plan on how to accomplish it, I quickly began to realize that it’s entirely dependant on Cameron himself and an entirely new group of people…. the other children at his school.

Why is it needed?

Cameron would do well and excel very rapidly were he to stay confined to his classroom where he has his friends and teachers that he knows so well. A comfortable setting and a set routine. He’s responded so very well to this and has reached many grade 1 milestones in his education before he even reaches grade 1. I’m proud of him, but now he’s ready to be pushed out of his comfort zone.

Eventually everyone leaves elementary school. High school is a scary place. The work force is even scarier than that.

There is a very real danger that if he becomes too dependant on his comfort zone, not only will he no longer excel once removed from it but he could regress completely… something akin to a nervous breakdown.

integrationIntegration is the key to helping him to keep that comfort zone as a fall back, should he need it, but also prevent him from becoming dependant on it because it simply won’t always be there.

If you read my blog, you know that we uprooted our family, sold our house and moved to find the school that he attends now. It’s because they have a wonderful Autism program integrated right into the school which means that, while a regular every day normal school, it does have some classrooms dedicated specifically to Autism students. Cameron is in one of those classes.

A very very big part of the reason for our move is that it has this dichotomy right in one building. He gets the best of both worlds every single day. When he wasn’t ready for it, he stayed in his class. When he is ready, he leaves the classroom to find the other students.

This, we believe, will be extremely advantageous to his development.

Why is it so hard?

How could it be so hard with such a perfect school? Well, the problem is that every child is different. And if there’s one thing that a school requires to function properly, it’s structure. So how do you build structure when each child’s needs are completely different?

Many of the children simply aren’t ready and so, they’ll stay in the safety of their class until they are. Others, such as my son, are ready. But being ready doesn’t mean you can just throw him into a regular class.

Some children are ready to “play next to” other children that are brought to their safe zone (their class room), some children are ready to “play next to” other children in some other class room, some children are ready for limited interaction, some children are ready to actually play together. There’s literally hundreds of ways to measure what a child is and isn’t ready for.

Like all things, it’s something that takes practice, patience and time. Which means introducing the child to other children, having them come to the safe zone, having the child leave the safe zone, having them try to talk, answer questions… and so on and so forth. It’s a slow process.

This sort of thing doesn’t just happen on it’s own though. The child needs supervision… support. This requires a human body that knows him, knows his queues and can recognize when he’s overwhelmed or when he’s doing well.

It also means having a person, or people, for each and every child that is ready plus it requires them to recognize, remember and be an expert at each stage of integration so that they can know the child’s progress and their next step.

This all costs money, it requires an attention to detail, it requires being able to cope and deal with the set backs when the child can’t handle it… it also requires a reporting system so that the school can determine what is and isn’t working and how to improve the system.

It’s a very complicated system that seems so very very simple to us parents because our focus is on one child. For us, who cares what system is in place. Just give our child someone to learn to be social with!

If only it was that simple

Hidden benefit

For me, my son comes first. Both of my boys do and always will. However, a big part of me looks globally, to all people, especially those with Autism.

And to me, integration at a very young age has a much more wide spread benefit and it’s not to our children with Autism. It’s to those children that are being introduced to them. That are being encouraged to be patient with them, to help them and support them.

When I see one or two children my son’s age say hello to him, when I see them take their time and wait for him… when they help him with something he struggles with, to me… that’s global progress. Not just my son, not just those children but for all people.

That’s where acceptance is most powerful… in our youth. If we can have a 5 year old helping a 5 year old, as they get older, it will never even occur to them to think of someone different as weird, bizarre or a freak. The reactions and instincts of their peers and even their own parents before them will have no bearing on these children as they will have grown up with a sense of understanding and acceptance that will dominate any pre-existing notions.

Why is integration needed? Well, it helps my child with Autism learn to be social, learn to communicate effectively and learn to live an independent life along side those that he may never understand but that’s just one benefit to one person.

More so than that, and even more importantly than that, on a much wider scale, it allows his peers to accept him for who he is and to help him when he needs it, rather than to judge or ridicule him.

My son has a great support system. He has so many great people helping him and it comforts me. But it’s when I see one child helping another… that’s when I know my son will be alright.

About Stuart Duncan

My name is Stuart Duncan, creator of My oldest son (Cameron) has Autism while my younger son (Tyler) does not. I am a work from home web developer with a background in radio. I do my very best to stay educated and do what ever is necessary to ensure my children have the tools they need to thrive. I share my stories and experiences in an effort to further grow and strengthen the online Autism community and to promote Autism Understanding and Acceptance.

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