Inclusive education is important for individuals on the spectrum, as well as their typically-developing peers, as it fosters acceptance of diversity.
However, mainstreaming autistic kids into classrooms has often involved a paraprofessional—a teacher’s assistant who basically ensures the autistic child behaves so they can stay with and learn with typically-developing peers. Not the most ideal solution.
That was part of the drive to create what’s called the ASD Nest Model—an education system hailing from the New York City area that strives to make classrooms truly inclusive and beneficial for autistic and neurotypical students alike.
The system was the brainchild of Dorothy Siegel, a special education advocate. With help from other colleagues, she launched a pilot program for ASD Nest, starting with Public School 32 in Brooklyn, New York. Since then, it has blossomed across the school district. It’s now implemented in 43 schools, from elementary to high school, with over 1200 students participating.
Here’s how it works.
Classrooms typically contain two teachers (both of whom have taken two graduate-level classes on educating those with autism), four autistic students (all of whom are able to complete school material at their grade level), and anywhere between eight to 20 typically-developing students.
In addition to smaller classrooms and more teachers who are specifically trained to understand students on the spectrum, the ASD Nest model also features classrooms tailored to sensory needs (lights turned off, fidgets available, pillows and spaces where students can cool down, etc). It also incorporates various therapeutic strategies. Teachers work to model appropriate social behavior for all their pupils. Students on the spectrum also attend a social development intervention class (also known as “social club”) three times per week, taught by a therapist. And for the kiddos who are not autistic? They’re taught respect and kindness.
Unfortunately, we don’t have solid, empirical information on how well the ASD Nest Model works. But autism expert Catherine Lord said it is very well-organized, and Siegel reported that “at least half of the students in the two original classes in 2003 were in college.”
Overall, it appears to be a pretty effective system—at the very least one that is respectful toward autistic students and values them for their unique strengths and differences, as well as takes into account and provides for their unique needs. That alone seems to make the ASD Nest Model pretty darned awesome!
Check out the video below to learn more about this system!
A. Stout received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing through Grand Valley State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2015. In addition to being a passionate autism advocate, she is a member of various fandoms, a study abroad alumna, and an animal lover. She dreams of publishing novels and traveling all over the world someday.