A new private high school for students with high-functioning autism and Asperger's Syndrome will be opening in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in September 2010, according to a recent article in AnnArbor.com. Veritas Christi High School, a non-denominational faith-based private school, will be located at 410 S. Maple on the west side of Ann Arbor. The school will offer a college-prep curriculum specially designed for students with autism and Asperger's Syndrome.
The school's founder, Richard Nye, says this population needs a small school with very small classes and expert faculty. They need stimulation in an environment where they won't feel different or stigmatized. He also says that he wants the school to be "inclusive" and not limit it to just students with autism and Asperger's Syndrome. I am guessing that what he means by "inclusive" is that the school will not exclude students out-of-hand just because they don't carry the right label. If they can benefit from the small classes, extra attention, and specialized curriculum, and their parents can pay the tuition, then who cares what their diagnosis is or whether they have one?
Surprisingly, the school wins high praise from an advocate for the kind of inclusion that would seem to preclude a school specially designed for students with particular types of disabilities. Sally Burton-Hoyle, a professor of special education at Eastern Michigan University and director of the Autism Society of Michigan from 1994 - 2006, has, in the past, said that inclusion of disabled students in regular public schools in classrooms with their non-disabled peers is a right and not a privilege.
Featured in the 2002/2003 Winter newsletter of the West Michigan Inclusion Network, Burton-Hoyle is quoted as saying “I think that people are as disabled as their setting is” and that the educational system must have a strong commitment to include students with autism in general education classes in the public schools. “It is best practice for persons with autism to be included and involved with typical and age-appropriate peers.”
According to the AnnArbor.com article, Sally Burton-Hoyle has apparently changed her mind. She says about the new school in Ann Arbor, that it will fill an educational void:
“We’ve not been able to ever point to a (place and say) go here, go there, and have it be the kind of place that would support people with Asperger’s...It’s particularly important for teens, who in a typical school setting may not be accepted for their strengths - like focusing very intensely on certain topics or talking a lot about them...Hopefully, kids will walk in and know it’s a place where they can feel accepted...If not, their anxiety goes up and their ability to perform at where they should be goes way down."
In the "Inclusion Wars" that started in the 1990's and continue to the present day, many mainstream, government-funded advocacy groups have actively tried (and often succeeded) to close specialized schools that are necessary for kids like mine. Rather than fighting the advocates, it would have been refreshing, to say the least, to hear an advocate defend a parent's right to advocate for a school setting that offers expertise in the particular disability the child has in a non-stigmatizing and accepting environment or for any setting that works for a particular child.
Instead we have an "educational void", created in large part by the proponents of an inclusion ideology based on false generalizations about a group as diverse as any in our society: students with disabilities.
A private school for students with high-functioning autism and Asperger's Syndrome, especially one that will help them through a college-prep curriculum, is a worthy undertaking. Schools, public or private, that provide students and parents with choices (including regular classrooms with appropriate supports) and alternatives that fulfill the educational needs of disabled students deserve our support. An inclusion ideology that is fraught with contradictions, false assumptions, and harmful generalizations about children with disabilities is hardly worth defending.