Do Mainstream Classrooms Give Students with Autism PTSD?

September 16, 2021

Not Understanding Autistic Behavior Can Create a Toxic School Environment

Is it reasonable to push children with autism to conform their classroom behavior to neurotypical standards? And could this attempt cause more harm than good? A recent article in Psychology Today believes so. It indicates that mainstream classrooms may be too difficult for students with autism, pointing out that children with the disorder are often taught that what they feel, think, or do is wrong. The report suggests that these criticisms can have a life-long impact on self-esteem, self-confidence and self-advocacy. The article states that students with autism can have varying levels of  productivity. For instance, if the child is hungry, tired, not feeling well, or had a problem earlier in the day, they may not be able to access the skills necessary to attend and finish an assignment. In some cases, the pressure that is created from a situation like this can result in trauma. To demonstrate how to avoid traumatic school situations for children with autism, the article included a viral Facebook post from a teacher named Karen Blacher regarding her classroom set up and design. The teacher states: 

All of my students are neurotypical, but my classroom looks very much like a special education classroom. I teach mindfulness and emotional literacy. I have a calm corner and use it to teach self-regulation. I provide fidgets and sensory toys. My students are thriving. And that made me realize something.

When we treat autistic children the way the world tells us to treat neurotypical children, they suffer. But I have never encountered a child of any age or neurotype who doesn’t thrive when treated like an autistic person should be treated, with open communication, adaptive expectations, and respect for self-advocacy and self-regulation. Maybe neurodiverse people aren’t the only ones who’ve been misunderstood and mistreated all this time. They’re just the ones who feel it most.

In the end, this article calls for modifying classroom accommodations and open-mindedness for systemic change for students with autism. The author suggests that teaching these kids in the same manner as neurotypical children is a recipe for failure, not only for the student, but also for the school. 

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