TEACHERS must be given training to cope with the rising numbers of autistic children in mainstream schools, campaigners said yesterday.
Carol Evans, the national director of the National Autistic Society Scotland, said there were worrying levels of ignorance about the condition in schools.
“One man described how the teaching assistant at his son’s school did not even know what Asperger’s syndrome was,” she said. “This lack of knowledge contributes to the argument that autism should be a compulsory subject in teacher training.”
Despite an estimated one in 100 people being affected by autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), teachers in Scotland receive no standard training on the condition.
As part of an awareness- raising campaign, NAS Scotland has called for teachers to be given training to ensure that children with ASD receive the appropriate education.
Mrs Evans added: “I have every sympathy with teachers working with children with autism who have had insufficient or no training. It was a political decision to bring children with special needs into the mainstream. However, it has not been backed up by adequate resources and support.”
In just six years, Scottish schools have seen a 623 per cent rise in the number of autistic pupils. In 2005, state secondaries had 825 pupils with ASD compared with 114 in 1999.
In January, The Scotsman highlighted a damning report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education, which found that services for autistic youngsters were “frequently deficient”.
Dr Evelyn McGregor, a lecturer in child development at Edinburgh University, co- authored a study on teaching children with autism. She found that teachers with no experience of ASD children often held shocking misconceptions.
She said: “They had an exaggerated view of autistic children as acting out and screaming, where the experienced teachers saw that was very rare.”
She said children with ASD can be misunderstood as simply being badly behaved. “I think it would help if teachers had guidance,” she said. “Autism is not a simple thing to diagnose – mild autism is quite complicated and people need special training for that.
“A teacher who had some knowledge might be able to stop and think, that this child has additional needs.”
Carla Rowden is the co- ordinator of the NAS Advocacy for Education service, which helps parents fight for the best education for their ASD child.
She said: “Some local authorities and teachers are doing their best, but they perhaps need some support.
“Parents come to us saying their parenting skills are being questioned because their children are seen as badly behaved. With the prevalence of autism, teachers can expect to teach a child with autism at some point in their career, so training would help,” Ms Rowden went on.
“And things which would help autistic children learn, would help all children – such as getting straight to the point and not using figurative language.”
Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, backed the call for training.
A spokesman said: “It is certainly something we acknowledge as needing to be addressed.”
‘Blair’s not just in my care – he’s a friend’
BLAIR Houliston, 14, found himself isolated in school because his teachers didn’t understand his Asperger’s syndrome.
His mother, Avril Ferguson, 43, from Livingston, West Lothian, said: “A lot of them haven’t even heard of it. He’s told sit down and shut up but he can’t do that because of his condition.
“In his first year, one teacher just thought Blair was being bad and and that isolating him would make it better.”
However, Blair needed social interaction and through the National Autistic Society he met befriender Jackie Scott. Mrs Scott, 59, said: “We go to garden centres because Blair likes gardens and chocolate cake. Our interests have been matched well and I don’t think of Blair as just someone in my care – he’s my friend.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]