Sunday, September 11, 2011

Autism - Are The Schools Prepared For The Epidemic?

The number of Autistic children are growing. Currently there is 1 in 150 children this year who will be diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum.
What is being done to prepare for this onslaught of Autistic children who will be entering the school system?
The Autism Spectrum encompasses a large scale. There are literally thousands of Autistic children with varying degrees of Autism joining the school system yearly. Some of the schools would never have seen a child with Autism and are ill prepared to deal with it.
Each Autistic child is an individual and the Individualized Education Plan cannot be mass produced and needs to be geared solely towards the needs of that child.
No two Autistic children are the same so you can't have a one size fits all IEP.
In the new age no child left behind school regime, what is being done to prepare the teachers for the new evolution of students that they are going to be teaching?
Children with Autism come with multiple challenges that the teachers are going to have to face, one of the main ones being communication. Approximately 50% of Autistic children never speak.
Effective methods of communication between the teachers and the Autistic student will need to be developed. Some include picture boards, where the student can pick the item that he wants, the pecs system, which basically works the same with an expansion of objects and sometimes just gesturing.
Some unfortunately display their Autistic symptoms more than others. The stimming, usually displayed as flapping and the child with Autism's sometimes inappropriate obsessive fixation on certain objects may be misunderstood by teachers and other students who may never have seen this before.
Some of these Autistic signs and symptoms are used by the child with Autism to regulate themselves and a place may need to be provided where the child can do this in order to cope with the overwhelming changes being in a different environment with a larger number of strangers will bring.
Also another factor which will need to be addressed is the privacy of the Autistic child. Obviously sometimes, these children behave in manners that a regular child does not and a stricter policy for privacy should be maintained to stop teachers and staff discussing this outside of school. The Autistic child is not always in control of their mannerisms or behaviors and they deserve the same dignity that a regular student has.
Are our Autistic children going to be lost in the shuffle?
Doomed to spend their days in a classroom where they are being babysat at best by teachers who quite frankly have no idea how to help them?
More emphasis needs to be placed now on recruiting and training Special Education teachers who want to make a change in the Autistic child's life.
Those that have been doing Special Ed for a long time need classes updating their skills and introducing them to the challenges they are going to face with the children with Autism.
A lot has changed since the first days when Autism was first diagnosed and treated with electric shock therapy.
There are many documented cases now where children who have received effective early intervention lose some of their Autistic signs and symptoms and go on to live productive lives e.g. Temple Grandin.
Children with Autism flourish with one on one instruction. Schools need to be aware that they may need to hire more auxiliary staff to help with the Autistic children.
They also need to be aware that burn out is a high risk for teachers with children with Autism and time needs to be allowed during the day when they can switch out with another teacher thereby refreshing themselves.
Regular class teachers need to be educated as the higher functioning Autistic children will be in their classes. The teaching format can and should be adjusted to assist the child with Autism in their learning process. This is not to say that time for the other students should be taken away, merely that this is where other staff can be incorporated to assist the Autistic student.
Regular communication between the families and the educational staff should be scheduled.
Parents should be encouraged with their input as to the Autistic child's education.
Quite a number of parents of Autistic children are relentless in their endeavours to improve the prognosis of their child with Autism, extra activities, exercises and the use of treatments to name but a few.
By working together as a team, they can all help the child with Autism grow more productively.
Headmasters need to be educated regarding Autism and the implications that it will have on their school in regards to extra staffing and the way the Special Ed department works, as officially as it is in their school, they are meant to be supervising it.
Ignorance is not an excuse and it will not be accepted by the parents of the Autistic children who want a decent education for their affected child.
If the no child left behind policy is going to be wholly effective for Autistic children as well as the average school child, then changes need to be made now.
The numbers of children with Autism are increasing annually.
If the schools wait to make changes, then the child with Autism will be left behind.
Donna Mason has been a Registered Nurse for the past 16 years. She is the mother of 6 children, 3 of whom have varying degrees of Autism. For more information on Autism signs and symptoms, and to learn more about this mother's battle in the fight against this misunderstood condition, visit us on the web at:
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