The word "inclusion" sounds simple. In fact, though, it can mean many things to many people - which is part of the reason it's so tough to implement.   For example...

There's "partial inclusion," wherein a child with autism is included for brief periods of time or in selected settings. In school, partial inclusion could mean "inclusion only in math," or "inclusion only in music," etc.

There's "full inclusion with support," in which the child with autism is physically in a setting with typically developing children, but expectations are modified and supports (such as an aide) are put in place. Sometimes this works; just as often the child with autism is physically present but emotionally and intellectually absent.

There's "reverse inclusion," wherein typically developing kids are brought into a special needs setting to provide role models and opportunities for building friendships outside the special needs community.

There's "if you can handle it, you're welcome to take part" inclusion, wherein children with special needs are allowed to take part in anything they like, provided they can behave like typical children. This type of inclusion is not unusual in school settings (he can be in band, so long as he can keep up with the other kids and doesn't cause any problems), and it's even more common in community settings (he's welcome to play Little League, so long as his skills and behavior are on par with the other kids).

 Painting the SetAnd then there's something I'm terming "Authentic Inclusion." Authentic Inclusion involves the selection of a typical activity in which the child with autism can fully engage with minimal or no support. In Authentic Inclusion, the child with autism is not just physically present. He's not simply tolerated and ignored. She's actually and authentically a part of whatever is going on.

For some kids with autism, Authentic Inclusion must be very simple indeed. An hour at the beach... a short walk in the woods... a couple of turns at bowling.  For others, Authentic Inclusion can be much more.  In fact, it's likely that most kids with autism can be authentically included in selected activities more and more as they build skills and comfort - and as the people around him begin to understand what he's really capable of doing.

In the photo above, you see our son, Tom, helping to paint the set for the local theater guild's big spring production. He's not doing busy work or work that was created to provide an opportunity for inclusion. He's not receiving hand-over-hand help, though he did get some instruction and direction.  He's not even working with a parent, or an aide, or using a special tool.

In fact, what Tom is doing is ... painting the set for the theater guild's upcoming production. Really.

He was ready and able to do it, and so he did it. The adults involved were delighted to have his help - really.  They were glad to have the help NOT because they felt good about doing the right thing for a "special" child, but because they were in need of helping hands in the theater.

Of course, there are jobs for which our son is ready, and jobs for which he's not yet ready. I wouldn't put him in charge of hanging lights, or setting up the sound system... yet. But as he's ready, we give him that little shove out of the nest.  In fact, he'll be helping Dad by pushing the button for the backstage fog machine next week...  and we're hoping he'll be ready for the chorus of a children's Christmas show this winter!

Lisa Jo Rudy is the author of the soon-to-be-published book Get Out, Explore and Have Fun! How Families of Children with Autism andAsperger Syndrome Can Get the Most Out of Community Activities

If you're interested in reading additional articles on autism, ScientificBlogging's Autism Awareness page provides a listing of all the articles on our site that touch on the subject.