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As a modern-day educator it is imperative to build a learning environment that is equitable

and inclusive for all students regardless of gender, ethnicity, intellectual ability, cultural or religious

backgrounds. However, to create an inclusive educational environment segregation should be

removed between regular and special education. Inclusive education involves mainstream schools

and classrooms making adaptions and modifications to pedagogical approaches to equitably meet

needs of all students as well as recognizing disparities between ‘regular’ and special needs students

(Loreman, Deppeler & Harvey, 2011). This paper aims to examine educational inclusion for students

with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) whilst discussing changes in views, legislation and pedagogy

for students with special needs.

Traditionally, education and pedagogical approach has derived from teacher-led dictations

or behaviourist approaches that are designed for the average student, failing to cater for the needs

of a wide range of students including those with a physical or intellectual disability (Konstantinou-

Katzi et al., 2013). For this reason, students who did not fit this ‘norm’ such as students with special

needs were educated in segregated settings which can have their effectiveness questioned while

also adding to negative stigma and deficit beliefs surrounding individuals with a disability (Konza,

2008). This ideology lends itself to the belief that students with special educational needs cannot

comprehend or understand curriculum content without access to additional support or resources,

thus heavily contributing to segregated education settings for much of the early twentieth-century

(Mitchell, 2009).

Since this time specific legislation has been introduced such as the Disability Discrimination

Act, 1992 and the Disability Standards for Education, 2005 which have created a framework for fair

treatment and opportunity for individuals with a disability. The Australian education system rely on

this legislation to uphold and support the rights of students with a disability the opportunity to

access the curriculum and learning opportunities that any ‘regular’ student would (ACARA, 2016).
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The Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) implements legislation making it illegal

to act unfairly or less favourable towards an individual based on a disability (DET, 2012). The DDA

falls in line with Australia’s human rights obligations under the “Convention on the Rights of Persons

with Disabilities” whereby individuals with a disability are protected from discrimination in areas

such as employment, education, access or use of services and accommodation (DET, 2012). In line

with the beliefs of the Federal Government, this policy mandates that all state and territory

education providers, including government and non-government schools comply with this

legislation, as well as any other State Government legislation such as the Anti-Discrimination Act,

1977 and the Disability Inclusion Act 2014 in New South Wales (DET, 2012).

Moreover, as a result of the introduction of the DDA, various legislation has been

formulated and implemented in states and territories within Australia including the Disability

Standards for Education, 2005. This act aims to eliminate any discrimination of individuals with a

disability in the education system with emphasis under Part 5 Standards for participation: that see

students with a disability given the same rights and opportunities to participate in courses or

programs, have access to facilities and services in any educational institution by the same means of a

student without a disability (NSW DET, 2005). Within this standard it is included that educational

providers hold the right to implement necessary and reasonable adjustments where required to

ensure students with a disability are able to access and participate in education and training as do

students without a disability (NSW DET, 2005). These changes are classed as reasonable adjustments

if the action taken is seen as beneficial for all parties concerned and alleviates discrimination

through implementation of a range of resources such as; specific technology or materials, teacher

training and programs, direct funding of disability programs, continued school funding or a

consolidation of school resources to meets needs of students with a disability (NSW DET, 2005).

Comparatively to the DDA, the Disability Standards for Education provide a framework and

expectation that education providers implements strategies to prevent harassment and victimization
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with an overall goal of alleviate this unlawful behaviour to foster an inclusive learning environment

for all students (NSW, DET 2005).

In recent years, Australia has seen an exponential 42% increase in individuals with Autism

Spectrum Disorder (ASD) rising from 115,400 with individuals with the condition in 2012 to 164,000

in 2015 (ABS, 2015). ASD is a persistent development disorder often characterised through

behaviour at a young age with symptoms graded on a spectrum of mild to severe in areas such as;

difficulty with social interaction, repetitive or restrictions in patterns of behaviour and issues

surrounding communication skills (Autism Spectrum Australia, 2017). Although often identifiable at

a young age through behavioural assessment, a child may not be diagnosed with ASD until exposed

the educational and social demands of a schooling system (Konza, 2008). These difficulties can have

a detrimental impact on students with ASD’s social experience and educational outcomes with 85%

of students with ASD reporting difficulty at school with social interaction (63%), learning difficulties

(62%) and difficulties communicating (52%) being the most prevalent issues (AIHW, 2015).

Furthermore, these issues extend throughout tertiary education and employment as individuals with

ASD are less likely than others to complete tertiary qualifications whilst also having labour force

participation rate was 40% and an unemployment rate of 31%, three times the rate of people with

differing disabilities and six times the rate of individuals without a disability (ABS, 2015). For this

reason, it is critical that necessary and reasonable adjustments are implemented to ensure students

with a disability have access to resources and services to increase educational and in term post-

schooling outcomes.

As the prevalence of ASD among young Australians continues to rise, the number of

students being educated in ‘mainstream’ classroom settings will increase. Currently as it stands 1 in

4 individuals with ASD attend a special school however this leads to segregation (AIHW, 2015). To

ensure students are able to meet educational outcomes it is vital that educators are equipped with
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the correct knowledge and resources through specific training at a tertiary level such as in the

Western Sydney University unit “Inclusive Education”. By exposing pre-service teachers to this

specialist training, issues surrounding negative attitudes and deficit thinking can be overcome.

Deficit thinking in an educational setting refers to the notion of an educator having a pre-conceived

belief as to the results a student can achieve based on a bias of misconception about a specific group

of individuals (Rodríguez, Saldaña & Moreno, 2012). This can cause a negative impact on teacher

expectation and support towards a specific group, in turn removing the opportunity to learn, grow

and meet educational outcomes (Demanet & Van Houtte, 2012). To counteract this it is vital that

educators have understanding of key inclusive education support strategies such as the “Seven

Pillars of Support for Inclusive Education”(Loreman,2007). These pillars evoke understanding of the

different contextual requirements of support to create an inclusive environment including;

Developing positive attitudes, Supportive policy and leadership, School and classroom processes

grounded in research-based practice, Flexible curriculum and pedagogy, Community involvement,

Meaningful reflection and Necessary training and resources (Loreman, 2007). Moreover, by exposing

Teachers to correct training and resources, improvements in teaching skills and pedagogical design

will be seen while providing educators with the tools to make reasonable adjustments and

accommodation to create an inclusive educational environment (Morrier, Hess & Heflin, 2010).

As an educator of an individual with ASD it is vital that reasonable adjustments and

accommodations are provided for students to enable educational participation as seen in the

Disability Standards for Education, 2005. Students with a disability, especially ASD, require

individualised strategies and accommodations in order to facilitate educational outcome

achievement (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2017). There a range of possible accommodations and

adjustments opportunities including; classroom organisation and management, resources,

instruction, organisation and support services (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2017). Students with ASD

often demonstrate a unique way of learning with visual-spatial strengths whereby information is
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chunked holistically within a context most effectively supported by visuals to assist understanding

while providing meaning and structure (QLD DET, 2018). This accommodation lends itself to the

framework that is “Universal Design for Learning” (UDL), whereby a customized and adjustable

approach is taken that creates goals, methods, materials, and assessments that move away from

tradition “one-size fits all” ideology (National Center on Universal Design for Learning, 2014). This

can be achieved through providing a wide range of content delivery, formatting and differentiation.

Differentiation of learning in an educational setting involves implementing equitable and

interchangeable teaching, learning and assessment strategies that have the ability to engage,

provide meaning and challenge students to meet educational outcomes regardless of learning style

(NESA, 2018). Differentiated instruction is a popular and successful pedagogical approach as it caters

for a wide range of learners whether that be gifted and talented, individuals with a disability or

students at low-educational achievement levels. Differentiated instruction aims to allow students to

transition content in to knowledge and demonstrate this deep understanding by providing a wide

range of learning tasks and activities that are adaptable and draw on various resources and

pedagogical approaches to allows need for all learning types (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2017). This can

be implemented in a variety of ways to assist a student with ASD through student directed learning

techniques that require selection of an assessable topic or use of ICT which may also be used as an

inclusive measure to help normalise software or resources implemented to assist a student with a


Additionally, differentiation in pedagogical approach and content delivery is vital to a

student with a disability’s ability to achieve appropriate educational outcomes. When afforded

equitable opportunity, support and reasonable adjustments, students with disabilities such as ASD

are able to achieve appropriate educational outcomes at the same rate as their peers (Lawrence-

Brown, 2004). When setting goals and assessments for students with disabilities it is imperative that
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Teachers do not formulate deficit thinking surrounding achievement levels for students as this can

put a ceiling on educational achievement while depriving students of motivation to thrive and

improve (Demanet & Van Houtte, 2012). Likewise, issues associated to social interaction for students

with ASD may impact ability to portray knowledge in some forms of normalised assessment such as

presentations and speeches. To ensure the key outcome assessment student knowledge is being

recorded differentiation of assessment may be provided whereby students are given a choice as to

how to complete an assessment. An example of this that will still see educational outcomes being

met would include allowing students to pre-record an oral presentation and upload it to YouTube

which will which would provide a student directed approach to improve self-efficacy and avoid

detrimentally singling out a student’s assessment with a different form of delivery (Pennington,


Although in many cases adjustments and accommodations in the form of lesson design and

pedagogical approach can drastically increase an individual with a disabilities educational

experience, often educators who lack training or are subject to large class sizes may require support

from specialist staff and stakeholders. To promote inclusion and ensure all students are afforded the

same opportunity, assistance from stakeholders such as a school learning support officers (SLSO’s) is

pivotal in supporting the classroom Teacher and students with further needs (Groom & Rose, 2005).

Inclusion of an SLSO’s in a classroom environment allows for a direct and individualised approach to

be taken that will closely monitor education outcomes, behaviour, transition through school, social

interaction and psychological health through one on one support that ensures a student is not

generalised and is truly catered for to specific needs (Groom & Rose, 2005). Similarly, to ensure

progress can be made for students with ASD, it is vital that to maintain a strong connection with the

educational institution and parents or caregivers. By encouraging collaboration between educators,

support teachers and parents, common goals and bench marks can be set to monitor student’s
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progression whilst at school and allow for any adjustments such as implementation of specialist

therapy or support to assist in student development (Groom & Rose, 2005).

Conclusively, as numbers of individuals with disabilities such as ASD, coupled with

implementation of policy such as the Disability Discrimination Act, 1992 and the Disability Standards

for Education, 2005, an increase can be seen in students with a disability being educated in

mainstream or ‘regular’ educational settings. As is the right for these students, reasonable

adjustments and considerations must be implemented for these students to ensure all students are

afforded an equitable opportunity to meet educational outcomes in an inclusive education system.

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