This topic is something I have been pondering for the last few weeks. In Colorado, there was a heavy emphasis on academics and inclusion. I have had students at the middle school and high school levels where the parents did not want life skills at all, saying that it was the responsibility of the parents to provide those skills and for the school to provide academics.
I both agree and disagree. On the one hand, having worked at the high school level, I have seen first hand how hard it is and how long it takes for students to gain the skills needed to be functioning members of society. In many cases it takes years for a student to learn to cross a street safely, to learn to take a bus, to bag groceries appropriately, etc., which are just some skills that we worked on with my students. I had parents who refused any of that help, and to my knowledge, all of those children sit at home now, watching TV all day, getting fat, and doing nothing. No job, no leisure skills, nothing. I don't want that to happen to any more of my students if I can help it. And even though I am working in a middle school, I know what a benefit it is to start the life skills early, so that when they get to high school and transition, they have a head start and can focus on more skills and not just the basics.
On the other hand, I have seen students finally start to read in the 8th, 9th and 10th grades. I had a student with Down's Syndrome be the only student in his regular education social studies class name all 50 states and their capitals on a quiz. The class and teacher were all amazed. You can not count out academics. Our students are capable if we give them a chance. I read some research once that said we are underestimating the capabilities of students with Down's in particular and that many students are not reaching their academic potential simply because we are not teaching them, and not due to their disability. I wish I remembered the name, author, or journal where I read this so I could give them credit, but I don't. However, I remember the message and use it to guide me when thinking of curriculum.
Our students are delayed in many areas due to their disability. In my opinion only, I believe this to be true for academics as well. Regular ed. kids learn to read in k-3rd grades because that is when they are developmentally ready. But many of our students aren't ready then. I can't tell when they will be so all I can do is teach the subjects and wait. I have seen kids stagnate for years at one level in math or reading and then all of a sudden something switches on and they gain 2-3 years reading ability or math skills in what seems to be overnight. That happened to one of my students with Autism this year. He was working on beginning multiplication facts at the end of elementary and for most of the first semester. Now he is doing multiple digit multiplication and division in his head and is approaching grade level. I don't think it was anything I did since no other student showed this amazing growth. This student's brain just made a leap and opened up to the instruction, for whatever reason. If I wasn't teaching this to him, we might never have known. This is why it's important to teach both, and that is my plan.
I plan to teach guided reading as the research I did told me that this is one of the better methods for teaching reading to students with Autism I will individualize the math and writing to meet the students needs. I will teach grade level concepts (one grade at a time since we are multi-graded) in science and social studies, but it will be modified so that students can participate at their levels. And I will also teach life and social skills, both in the classroom and school, and out in the community. I plan to be balanced, as that is what I think is appropriate for a middle school program.