“You're Going to Love This Kid!” Teaching Students With Autism in the Inclusive Classroom, by Paula Kluth. Baltimore: Brookes, 2003.
In this book, which is focused on teaching students with autism in inclusive classrooms, Kluth addresses the needs of a growing group of students in today's schools. Autism spectrum disorder refers to a wide spectrum of complex developmental disorders that typically appear during the first 3 years of life. The three core features of autism are (a) impairments in social interactions, (b) impairments in verbal and nonverbal communication, and (c) restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Autism spectrum disorder affects an estimated 1 in 166 births, and based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and other governmental agencies, it is growing at a rate of 10 to 17% per year (Autism Society of America, 2005). Due to these national trends indicating an increase in the number of individuals with this disorder, there is a growing interest in developing effective interventions and appropriate social and behavioral supports for individuals with autism in home, school, and community settings. As Kluth states, many teachers report feeling puzzled as to how to support students with autism in inclusive classrooms. Kluth stresses and explains how, with appropriate and creative support, students with autism can actively participate in the curriculum and instruction in inclusive classrooms. As such, this book is a great resource for educators.
Kluth describes and defines autism, addresses the core features of autism (i.e., social interaction, communication, and behavior), and describes strategies that could be useful for teachers. Each of the 12 chapters is focused on a different aspect of educating students with autism in inclusive schools (e.g., connecting with families, the teacher's role, lesson planning, structuring the environment) and provides specific examples of how students with autism can be supported in inclusive schools and classrooms. Kluth's beliefs that provide a framework for the book are that “a student's label should never drive curriculum, instruction, assessment, and support. Any learner's educational program should be based on his or her individual characteristics and abilities. A disability label can, however, give teachers a starting point for learning about student's needs” (p. 4). Therefore, following a description of the characteristics of autism, Kluth emphasizes the need to get to know each student, create a classroom community, and use differentiated instruction that address the needs of all learners.
Kluth's writing style is easy to follow. She shares her own experience as a special education teacher and inclusive facilitator and includes personal stories and reflections. In addition, throughout the book the voices of individuals with autism spectrum disorder and their family members are featured. For example, the following quote stresses the need to get to know and understand each student “Until you stop trying to make us normal and work on acceptance and understanding about us individually, your attempts will be impossible” (Culter, 1998, cited on p. 153). These first-hand experiences and personal stories bring the information to life, make the reading interesting, and help readers understand the perspectives of others, including individuals with autism.
This book would be a welcome resource for current and future teachers, and higher education faculty. In particular, higher education faculty might select specific chapters (e.g., chapter 1, “Defining Autism”; chapter 11, “Teaching Strategies) to include in a reading packet for an introductory class about individuals with special needs. In addition, at the end of every chapter Kluth includes a box labeled “For More Answers and Ideas” that contains resources on the topic addressed in that chapter. These boxes and the 15-page bibliography at the conclusion of the book contain valuable resources for professionals and families alike. A unique aspect of the bibliography is that it includes a list of books written by people with autism and Asperger syndrome.
Although we believe this book could be a great resource for educators, there are a few caveats that are worthy of discussion. Given that many individuals with autism are not as skilled as the young man portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in Rainman, the individuals quoted here seem to predominately represent such individuals with higher verbal and intellectual skills. This representation excludes those students with more limited expressive and receptive communication skills (and possibly more significant cognitive delays), who are precisely the students that new and less experienced teachers often struggle to include successfully in their classrooms.
In addition, the title Teaching Students With Autism in the Inclusive Classroom might limit the potential readership. Although many of the strategies described in the book could benefit individuals with autism, they are not specific to this population (and, in fact, many have been empirically validated with individuals with a range of disabilities), the strategies could be discussed in a broader context as being beneficial for individuals with a range of disabilities. For example, in chapter 10, “Inclusive Pedagogy: Planning Lessons in the Diverse Classroom,” Kluth provides a step-by-step guide to lesson planning for inclusive classrooms that includes the following: (a) choose content that matters, (b) use flexible groupings, (c) use a wide range of materials, (d) mix lesson formats, and (e) use multiple assessments. Also in chapter 11, “Teaching Strategies: Ideas for Inspiring, Helping, and Engaging All Learners,” Kluth shares strategies for inclusive classrooms (e.g., build classroom communities, use visuals as you teach, teach new/replacement skills when children engage in challenging behavior, use cooperative learning groups). These chapters (and others, such as chapter 4, “Connecting With Families”) include descriptions of recommended practices for a range of students with (and without) special needs. This information could be beneficial to teachers as they interact with individuals with autism as well as students with other special needs.
In conclusion, Kluth has done a nice job writing a book that has the potential to attract a broad readership. Teachers, therapists, inclusion facilitators, and higher education faculty will find useful information presented in a reader-friendly style. Whether readers peruse the entire book or focus on individual chapters, useful resources and materials are sure to be an outcome.