Inclusion: what does it mean?

For a term so frequently used, there can be a surprising lack of consensus or even thought about what ‘inclusion’ actually means in the context of autism education. Much of the debate within the UK continues to centre around the basic issue of placement: should a child be educated within a mainstream or a ‘special’ school, or in a mainstream setting with an autism ‘resource’ attached? Moreover, while in Italy, all parents have the right to request a mainstream placement for their child, the situation in Greece, rather like the UK in some respects, is rather more diffuse, where children are placed in different settings, and some experiencing a high degree of educational segregation.


Members of the Italian, Greek and UK teams at a transnational meeting in Birmingham


The difficulty with such a conceptualisation of educational inclusion – one that focusses simply on what sort of school the child attends – is that the responsibility for achieving such integration remains essentially with the child, and whether or not s/he can cope with the environment, or ‘fit in’. However, on the TAE project, the teams from Greece, Italy and the UK are aiming for a more holistic and evolved understanding of inclusion. In the Schools Autism Competency Framework (which is a core document in the development of the TAE teacher training materials) created by the Autism Education Trust, for example, Christine Breakey is cited as follows:

“Any understanding of autism should not be approached from a position of ‘deficit’, but rather from a position of ‘difference’. Autistic people are not neuro-typical people with something missing or something extra added on. They are different. If we are serious about equality and inclusion within any area, then we must first of all understand that difference.” (p.8)

While the concept of ‘difference’ is in itself quite complex and multi-layered (and indeed, can be problematic), this principle makes it clear that the onus is on the school staff to understand the child in order to take that first step towards educational inclusion.

Similarly, when students at the Autism Centre for Education and Research (ACER) were asked about how to facilitate inclusion for autistic children, teaching assistant Katie Hobson referred to the importance of learning about autism as a core part of teacher training, in order to enable educators ‘to plan and implement activities based around the children’s strengths and promote difference being seen as something important, to be cherished.’ Lisa Corbett, another teaching assistant, took this idea a step further, by suggesting, for example, that ‘social skills should be taught to ALL children, not just those with ASC.’ This viewpoint reinforces the notion that the autistic child is placed on the same educational footing as all other children, and is not deemed to need any more ‘social skills’ teaching as anyone else, for example.

Professor Gary Thomas, in a recent interview on the ACER blog, defined educational inclusion as follows:

For me, inclusion is about much more than disability or special needs. It’s about a mindset of acceptance of everyone for who they are.”

These perspectives represent quite a different idea of inclusion than simply thinking about what sort of school the child attends. For the various partners of the TAE project, considering the issues around inclusion from a much broader and progressive standpoint not only adds value to the scheme itself, but permits a fruitful coalition between three countries, despite the different approaches to educational placement represented in our respective nations.


A tri-national partnership: Dr Lila Kossyvaki, Dr Paola Molteni and Katerina Laskaridou from the UK, Italian and Greek teams.


Lisa Corbett is a completing a BPhil in Inclusion and Special Educational Needs

Katie Hobson is studying for an Advanced Certificate in Autism (Adults)

Gary Thomas is Professor of Inclusion and Diversity in the School of Education at the University of Birmingham.


Breakey, Christine (2006) The Autism Spectrum: A Guide to Good Practice. London: Jessica Kingsley

5 thoughts on “Inclusion: what does it mean?

  1. Thank you and I agree with you about what inclusion is. It’s a concept we can take for granted, I think, and so it can be useful to consider what we actually mean. If you read Gary Thomas’ interview on the ACER blog (link in piece above), he makes some really interesting comments about the issue. BW.


  2. Really interesting and fundamental concept, this.

    I think that the concept of inclusion must start from two assumptions.

    The first is that every person has the right to recognize themselves in the society in which he lives, and that means that the company has the duty to make the person feel recognized. The inclusion must begin with a right and continue with a duty to recognize it.
    The second is that the concept of inclusion must be considered as a key factor for a company can really be called society, and not only a forced choice by the presence or absence of specific needs.
    The inclusion, in fact, is a concept that must exist regardless of the need for implementation: it must reach the same level of freedom, and be recognized a priori.
    Only in this way a group of people can really be called society.

    Thank you. Simone Knowing Simon S.


    • Thank you for this very interesting comment. I agree totally with your view that ‘inclusion’ must not be ‘a forced choice’ and also that it is a concept ‘that must exist regardless of the need for implementation’. We could also add that as long as we use terms such as ‘inclusion’, it cannot possibly exist, because we wouldn’t need to use it if it wasn’t an issue. Secondly, we could also argue that we all have ‘needs’, we all need ‘support’, so why have a separate category of individuals classified as having ‘needs’ or ‘support needs’, as if we have to make a special effort just for them? It’s just that some ‘needs’ are more generally absorbed by society and so we don’t think of them in that way. Thank you again for your comment and for taking this discussion onto a deeper level! (BW).


      • Thank you. I completely agree with.

        In fact, think about the necessity of inclusion means bringing attention to the fact that someone, somewhere, was excluded. The concept of inclusion, therefore, should not exist in a real open-mind and people-oriented society.

        Thank you very much.
        Simone Knowing Simon S.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Perhaps part of the problem is that ‘inclusion’ is often only discussed by people who work or conduct research into the problem of exclusion, or by people who experience exclusion themselves. Perhaps for many/some (fortunate people), inclusion is simply not a problem because they have only ever experienced this. If so, we need to try to ‘include’ in the debate people who might have little concept of what exclusion is. (BW).

      Liked by 1 person

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