For Autistic Students, Mainstreaming Has a High Cost

About 90 percent of the families of mainstreamed autistic children supplement the salaries of special teacher's aides, and about 55 percent pay them overtime out of their own pockets.

These are among the findings of a survey conducted by Malki Itzik regarding the educational mainstreaming of autistic children. The average family pays NIS 4,000 monthly to cover services by teacher?s aides and advisers, Itzik found.

There are three educational options for autistic children in Israel: Special education institutions, special education classes in regular schools, and regular classes. Last year, 623 autistic children were integrated into regular classes, and this year, the number rose to 894. Today, a national parents' conference at Tel Hashomer Hospital will address the matter.

According to the survey of about 100 parents, which was conducted during the previous school year, nearly all the parents employed a teacher's aide after school hours, and about 90 percent did so during holidays and vacations. The survey revealed that about 81.3 percent of the aides were employed following recommendations by other parents, and that they have more of a teaching background than peers hired by local councils. Moreover, 80.5 percent of the aides receive some training from parents, 6.5 percent are trained by the Education Ministry or the municipality, and 13 percent receive no instruction whatsoever in caring for autistic children.

ALUT − The Israeli Society for Autistic Children offers a course for teacher?s aides. 'The Education Ministry's training does not meet the special needs of autistic children in general, nor of those who are mainstreamed, in particular,' says ALUT's Gal Bachar, who is behind the course. 'This is an excellent example of parents taking on the state?s responsibilities.'

Malki Itzik, who is also a member of the ALUT board, says there is general dissatisfaction with municipally appointed teacher's aides, and that parents are forced to shoulder the burden of integrating their children. 'If the Education Ministry believes in mainstreaming as many pupils as possible, it must provide appropriate funding. Unfortunately, the ministry fails to create conditions for successful integration. If there are successes, they are thanks to the parents.'

The Education Ministry reports that the issue of parents paying for teacher's aides 'is currently being debated in court, and the law bars us from responding until there is a ruling.' Smadar Melichi, the ministry official responsible for mainstreaming, says, 'The integration of autistic children began before implementation of the Mainstreaming Clause in 2005, and it has increased in breadth and depth since then. Mainstreaming is funded based on allocations that consider students' needs. Successful mainstreaming is not necessarily a function of a teacher?s aide and special hours, but mainly of the extent to which the school is prepared to integrate the student.'