Research on autism education focuses on emotional needs

Dec 8, 2015 by

Danielle Kutchel –

A needs-based survey of teachers, parents and specialists dealing with students on the autism spectrum has found greatest concern about social and emotional wellbeing of students at school and future research will focus on intervention strategies and classroom design.

Meeting the social, emotional and educational needs of children on the autism spectrum has emerged as the prime concern of parents, teachers, students and specialists, according to a new needs-based survey.

And the focus for change and improvement will be on classrooms in mainstream schools because that’s where 72 per cent of children with autism are educated, according to experts.

Professor Sylvia Rodger, director of research and education at the Co-operative Research Centre for Living with Autism (Autism CRC), has recently overseen a survey of 1468 parents, teachers, students and presented the results at the 2015 Asia Pacific Autism Conference in Brisbane.

Australia’s Autism CRC is a world-first co-operative research centre focused on autism across the lifespan. Professor Rodger said the autism educational needs analysis would form the basis of important research projects in the future.

She said respondents made clear social, emotional and behavioural needs were “high on the agenda” for all those involved in the education of students with autism, but one of the chief barriers to supporting such students was lack of adequate training for staff. Professor Rodger said this skills deficit was being addressed.

Autism CRC’s projects and research are aimed at students across their school lives, from early childhood to senior high school. Its Early Years Behaviour Support Project focuses on children with significant behavioural challenges; one component involves tele-classroom consulting directly into classrooms, allowing a team of specialists to “observe what’s happening and provide support” as the challenging behaviours are taking place, Professor Rodger said.

Regional and rural students could be supported in this way as these schools rarely have the same access to specialist positive behavioural support as city students. The pioneering use of mobile technologies allow for solutions to challenging behaviour to be developed and implemented in real time.

The Autism CRC is also developing a whole-of-school-community approach to “developing resourceful, resilient schools”, Professor Rodger said.

“We will focus on inclusion and diversity,” she said. The results of the Educational Needs Analysis “provide empirical evidence that the Autism CRC is using to inform our approach to the Senate Inquiry into Education for Students with Disabilities”.

She said there was a significant gulf between research and practice: “between what is known about inclusive educational practices and what actually occurs in many schools”. Narrowing that gap in the classroom will be a focus of future research. Almost three-quarters of students on the autism spectrum attend mainstream schools and many of the strategies discussed at the conference focused on enhancing inclusion for students.

“At APAC we received resounding support from parents and teachers in the audience regarding the need to invest in schools, especially mainstream schools. More research is needed in this area,” Professor Rodger said.

Future studies will consider the physical and sensory environment that students on the spectrum in mainstream schools have to face.

“Classrooms are usually busy, noisy and visually distracting,” the professor said. “We are researching whether, by modifying the classroom to provide quiet study nooks, areas in the school for taking a break that are calm and quiet, amplifying the teacher’s voice, and providing sufficient environmental structure such as visual supports, students with and without autism perform better academically and behaviourally. By 2016, our research will be conducted across some 120 Australian classrooms.”

“We are working together with school systems and communities across the country to ensure that our research is targeted and the outcomes can be effectively and efficiently translated to use.”

Professor Rodger said adjustments to the classroom could have flow-on benefits not just for students on the spectrum, but also for their classmates.

“If you get it right for students with autism, you’ll probably get it right for a lot of students in the class,” she said.


Source: Research on autism education focuses on emotional needs

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