A high-profile autism advocate in New Brunswick is questioning the merits of what he calls the Department of Education's extreme inclusion model.

Harold Doherty, who has an autistic son and runs a blog dedicated to autism issues, contends the classroom isn't the right setting for every child.

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Harold Doherty says his son Conor now receives individual instruction outside regular classrooms. (Facing Autism in New Brunswick)

"I believe that the kind of evidence-based intervention that we need for our children, in some cases children with autism, is absolutely necessary and to deny it is a denial of the human rights, basically, of children like my son," he said.

Doherty was responding to a recent statement written by Gordon Porter, the former head of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission.

'He would come home every day with bite marks on his hands and wrists because some autistic children cannot function in a mainstream classroom. They're overhwelmed.' —Harold Doherty

Porter, who has played a key role in the province's approach to inclusive education, wrote on a Canadian education website that some interventions in the school system result in segregation and pose a challenge to inclusive education.

Doherty, however, argues that’s based on philosophy, not evidence.

He is challenging Porter to a public debate on the issue.

Carr plans to enhance evidence-based services

Doherty says over the past 10 years, the school system has adopted evidence-based interventions. Competent professionals look at the individual needs and challenges of each student and determine whether they should be in the classroom.

But now that Porter, who has won international awards for promoting inclusion, is back as a special advisor to the provincial government, Doherty said he is worried the Department of Education may go back to full inclusion.

"We had a full inclusion model, I call it 'extreme' because it puts everybody in the classroom, regardless of the challenges they face," he said.

"In my son's case, when that was initially in place, that meant he was in the mainstream classroom and he would come home every day with bite marks on his hands and wrists because some autistic children cannot function in a mainstream classroom. They're overwhelmed."

Doherty's son Conor now interacts with other students in common areas and in gym class, but special accommodations have been made for him to receive individual instruction outside regular classrooms.

Education Minister Jody Carr posted on Twitter Tuesday that Doherty shouldn't worry. The provincial government will be enhancing evidence-based support services for autism in schools, he said.

The province's inclusive public education is based on three principles:

  • Public education is universal
  • Public education is individualized.
  • Public education is flexible and responsible to change.