Being an actually autistic educator, I have a different view of the problem; and thus, the solution. A solution will always elude us when the problem isn’t defined properly.
If the goal is to ensure that every eligible child receives a “Free and Appropriate Public Education” (FAPE) in the “Least Restrictive Environment” (LRE),” then why not focus on the last phrase of the goal in finding a solution to the problem of how best to educate the neurodiverse mind? Why not focus on the “unrestricting” the environment?
In my opinion, the solutions offered in achieving the least restrictions on the classroom environment focus on only one side of the equation. There’s no balance. Parents and schools are offered a few choices depending on where they live and the resources available to their local school district. The more affluent the district, the more options available. Students in the less affluent districts will struggle to receive an appropriate education; with some being shipped across town – wasting everyone’s valuable time.
The balance, the solution, in our case can be found in our past, in our old one-room schoolhouses.
It’s also a solution that’s been a feature of classes that teach English as a foreign language (TEFL) for many years. But the solution isn’t often found in the mainstream classroom.
The solution is known as differentiated instruction. What’s that, you ask? Tomlinson and Imbeau (2010) have described it thus, “the core of the classroom practice of differentiation is the modification of four curriculum-related elements – content (what students learn), process (how do students make sense of the information and ideas), product (how they show what they’ve learned), and affect (the climate or tone in the learning environment) – which are based on three categories of student needs and variances – readiness, interest, and learning profile.”
Bosker (2005) adopted a broader approach, defining differentiation as adapting “aspects” of education (such as student grouping, learning goals, teaching time, or instructional strategy) to “differences” between students (primarily regarding performance and readiness, but also, for example, regarding intelligence, personality, or motivation).
Roy, Guay, and Valois (2013) described differentiated instruction as “an approach by which teaching is varied and adapted to match students’ abilities using systematic procedures for academic progress monitoring and data-based decision-making.”
With differentiated instruction, the teacher primarily coordinates time, space, and activities, rather than provides information. The pacing varies based on students’ needs. The goal is to help students become self-directed and self-reliant learners, first sharing, then assuming the responsibility for their learning.
Each of these definitions stresses the adaptation of aspects of instruction to differences between students. The goals of instruction remain the same. The learning outcomes remain the same. The difference? The acknowledgement that there is no single path to the goal, that each student will arrive at the goal in a slightly different way – and that’s perfectly fine. How this looks in practice is both complex and simple – but it takes a bit of effort and planning on the teacher’s part.