Separating children from regular classrooms and placing them all day in special needs classrooms, is, for the most part, passé. Children with autism, especially those that are mid to high functioning, are now mainstreamed, as are many special needs children. That wasn’t always so.
In the late 70’s and early eighties, as the full impact of President Kennedy’s bill of rights for disabled people really took hold, children who were more commonly kept in a quiet little room at the far end of a hall were slowly being introduced to their peers of the same ages in mainstream classrooms. Children without disabilities learned that they need not be afraid of special needs children, and special needs children loved being with and playing with their non-disabled peers. Teachers at that time were wary, but when they saw what was unfolding before them, they became more confident that this was a really good thing for everyone.
In the 80’s, during the Reagan administration, there was a major movement known as “no child left behind”. It pursued the idea that all children were entitled to an equal and fair education with their peers, and that charity could be taught to children who could help their physically and/ or mentally challenged friends with their schoolwork and maybe even catch up to the rest of the group. The idea wasn’t wrong; children have an innate willingness to help others, especially when they see that others really need the help.
By the 90’s most classrooms were mainstreaming just about any special needs child who could gain anything at all from being with their peers in the same classroom. Only cases of severe to profound disabilities where it would be almost impossible to teach the same material to these groups of children did they remain in the special education classroom. A few children with autism fall under this category, but many of them are still able to be mainstreamed for a portion of their school day. Even if they gain nothing from the experience, their non-disabled peers gain a whole lot more.
Evaluations and estimations of what children with autism are capable of doing in a mainstream classroom are conducted prior to their first full year of elementary school. Included in their IEPS are the number of hours they will be mainstreamed versus the number of hours they will be out for therapies of different types. Parents rarely have a say in the matter or a choice in which particular classroom their children will stay because of state and federal laws. However, most loving parents wouldn’t condemn their children to isolation from the rest of the population anyway, and therefore there’s little concern about having to make such a choice.