Merav Wirthiem, M.Ed.
Program Director, Educational Counselor

Mao Mao, a fifteen year autistic boy, had been a student at Shenzhen’s Bao Cheng Primary School until the school’s principal informed his mother that he could not attend in the coming year, citing disruptive classroom behavior as a primary reason.

A lively debate has ensued.  Mao Mao’s mother contends that attendance at Bao Cheng represents an excellent opportunity for her son to learn to function in society. The principal and other officials maintain that their decision was made in part because they felt that Mao Mao’s education would be ill-served by his continued presence in the school.

The debate in China reflects a long-standing global debate concerning inclusion in general learning classrooms as best practice in educating autistic students.

Liao Yanhui, of the Shenzhen Autism Society, framed the disagreement this way:

“The problem is not whether to go to a special school or regular school, or whether the child is slightly or severely autistic —it’s the right of all children to attend a regular school,” she said. “The problem is, there isn’t a support system to assist autistic students in class.”

You Xiaoyang, principal of Bolin Special Education School, sees it differently.  He sees less to gain in insistence on inclusion in General Education classrooms, stating, “The thing is how to educate autistic children, not how to accept them.”

As Essential Learning Group’s Tigers Program embarks on its ambitious inclusion partnership with Shanghai Community International School, we will watch this discussion intently.