Autism Q & A: What is the least restrictive environment?

By Daniel B. Kessler, M.D.

What does it mean when my child is placed into the least restrictive environment? Should I want my child taught with typical kids?

Least restrictive environment (LRE) means that a student who has a disability should have the opportunity to be educated with non-disabled peers, to the greatest extent appropriate.

It is entirely understandable for parents of a child with autism to look forward to their child attending a regular classroom with typical kids. While children who experience the typical social challenges of autism will benefit from socializing with typical kids, placing them into a typical classroom doesn’t make them typical. It doesn’t rub off.

I have a problem with full inclusion of children with disabilities into regular educational classrooms immediately upon transferring to kindergarten. This would be wonderful if every teacher in our schools was trained as a special education teacher (or even understood autism), the size of the classroom was limited and the services of appropriate specialists (such as speech therapists and occupational therapists) also were available. This is not usually the case. This does not mean that certain individuals cannot make this transition remarkably well.

Rather, and this is typically true for their initial kindergarten experience, children with autism should have access to the general education curriculum, or any other program that non-disabled peers would be able to access, and be provided with supplementary aids and services necessary to achieve their educational goals. But they should be taught in classrooms more likely to meet their special education needs.

Next: Teaching social skills to a child with autism.

Daniel B. Kessler, M.D., is a developmental and behavioral pediatrician and medical director of the Children’s Developmental Center at Easter Seals Southwest Human Development. His private practice, where he provides evaluation and treatment for children and adolescents, is located at Southwest Human Development.

The views he expresses in this series are based on his training, his reading of the literature and his more than 30 years of experience taking care of hundreds of kids on the autism spectrum. The series begins here.

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