Autism is a developmental disability affecting communication and social skills. Autism is not curable but it is treatable. It is vitally important that it is diagnosed at as early a stage in the child’s life as possible.
In the UK there are more than half a million people who are either autistic or who have autistic tendencies. The development of skills in children with autism will be slower than usual but will also be uneven… In the past widespread ignorance of autism blighted the educational opportunities for children with the condition. Children with autism have a very wide range of educational needs and so many different options are required to meet them.
In May of last year the National Autistic Society launched its first ever education campaign, make school make sense. Research found varied outcomes for children with autism: one fifth of children are excluded from school; less than a third of parents are satisfied with autism understanding across the school; two third of parents believe their choice was constrained by a lack of provision; there is widespread difficulty accessing professionals such as speech and language therapists.
The NAS is calling for the right school for every child, the right training for every teacher and the right approach for every school
The campaign wants to put in place a statutory duty upon local authorities to secure a range of SEN provision. NAS research found that over half of the children are not in the kind of school their parents believe would best support them. It is not unreasonable for a parent or child to expect some form of SEN provision in their area, whether it is a special school, specialist support or a resource base in a mainstream school. Where provision is absent, long journeys to school can result, with adverse consequences on a child’s ability to concentrate; time spent with their family; and in some cases, travel costs. It makes sense for local authorities to work together to assess and plan provision for children with autism, and all forms of SEN.
Since prevalence of autism amongst children is now thought to be 1 in 100, every teacher can expect to teach children with autism during their career. There is a real need for improvements in teacher training was made all the more clear by a survey by the National Union of Teachers: 44% of teachers are not confident teaching children with ASD, 39% are not confident identifying children with ASD and 76% said lack of professional development in this area was a barrier to teaching children with ASD
In order for as many children with autism as possible to be educated in mainstream schools, all mainstream schools must be autism friendly.
Since 1997 more than ninety special schools have closed and those remaining have fewer pupils despite a steep rise in the number of children diagnosed as having special educational needs. Ministers like to argue that “inclusion is not an agenda to close special schools”. So what we need to do is ensure that we prevent special schools from closing, recognise the poor level of provision that exists in many areas and record that there is an increasing demand for these places.
Many parents know that inclusion is not appropriate and that this policy is failing their child. We need to make available to every autistic child the form of education which will give them their most effective learning environment. Yes we should support inclusion but only where it is in the best interests of the child and that it is the choice of the parents.
We also need to look to the best practice in other countries. There are some, like Israel, who have much better track record in meeting autistic kids’ educational needs.