Educating Students with Diverse Abilities – Autism
1. 0 Introduction: Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are one of the most common disabilities teachers will face in the classroom. Approximately 1 in 160 children are being diagnosed with having ASD, with autistic disorder (autism) and Asperger’s disorder the most prevalent (Australian Advisory Board on Autism Spectrum Disorders, 2007). Australia promotes an inclusive education system meaning that all students with disabilities are encouraged and entitled to be educated within a general school setting where possible.
Research shows that distinct improvements in children with ASD can be made if early diagnosis and the right interventions are implemented as early as possible (Australian Advisory Board on Autism Spectrum Disorders, 2008). It is therefore important that generalist primary school teachers are educated about ASD and its multitude of diversity in order to be able to enhance the learning experiences and produce positive outcomes of children with ASD in their classrooms. 1. 1 Overview of Autism Spectrum Disorder:
In majority of situations, difficulties in communication, social skills and repetitive behaviours become more evident as the child lags further behind in meeting age appropriate milestones, or shows signs of differing behaviours compared with other children the same age. Each of these indicators can range from very mild to severe and will display differently in each individual child. While every child will display communication, social, and behavioural patterns that are unique, they will all fit into the overall diagnosis of ASD. 2. 0 Implications on Learning:
While each child who is diagnosed with ASD will differ greatly on an individual level, all of them will share some common characteristics which will greatly impact on their learning. Learning can be affected in a number of ways and in every case, early intervention has a strong impact on reducing symptoms and increasing a child’s ability to develop and learn new skills (Rosenberg et al. , 2008). The State of Queensland (Department of Education and Training) (2006) assert that in an educational setting, ASD impacts on: social interactions, communication, restricted interests in behaviour and sensory processing.
Those who do speak are often monotone, and use unusual pitch, rhythm and syntax (Rosenberg et al. , 2008). According to Kunce and Mesibov (1998, p. 231) “difficulties with language and communication can interfere with the student’s ability to, process, understand, or remember verbal information and even students with apparently well-developed language skills may fail to adapt well in an unmodified classroom environment because of social-communication difficulties”. A relationship appears to exist between competence in communication, behaviour and overall level of functioning (Light, 1983).
Thus, language is a critical area for intervention and must be dealt with as early as possible. Whether through speech therapy or an augmentative system, the main focus of intervention should be on producing functional language for communication (Light, 1983). All children with ASD display restricted, repetitive and stereotyped models of behaviour and interests (Rosenberg et al. , 2008). Children with ASD may have an extreme preoccupation with a particular subject or object which they are infatuated with to the exclusion of any other activity, or may engage in behaviours such as rocking, spinning or finger flicking (Rosenberg et al. 2008). This can impact on learning because it is hard to motivate a student with ASD to take an interest in learning about new subject areas as well as concentrating and staying on task. Most children with ASD are intolerant of change and insist on having the same routines or rituals followed every day. If not maintained, they may become awfully distressed and may even engage in self-injurious behaviours such as biting, scratching or punching which the child inflicts upon their own body (Rosenberg et al. , 2008).
This can be very serious and educators must try to determine the cause and motivation behind the behaviour in order to alleviate it. The child for example may be frustrated about something, may be seeking sensory stimulation, or may be doing it for attention. Once the source of the problem is established a constructive method for treatment can be developed. Some strategies include, tactical ignoring, positive reinforcement, giving the child stimulating activities, and in some cases medication. Rosenberg et al. (2008, p. 255) advise that “in educational settings, using the behavioural theory is most useful”.
Children with ASD might also have difficulty absorbing or interpreting the processes of some or all senses. Some individuals may suffer hypersensitivity to lights or sounds, some may have tactile sensitivity and avoid touching certain objects. This can affect the child’s focus, attention span, ability to stay on task, coordination and motivation to participate in certain activities. All of these implications interfere with the everyday activities children are involved in at school and can make learning very challenging.
This can affect the child’s ability to learn effectively, perform basic tasks, and form friendships. Yet with the right strategies in place their developmental progress in all areas can be enhanced (Ferraioli & Harris, 2010). 2. 1 Classroom Challenges: Teachers may face a number of challenges in the classroom when educating a student with ASD however, with the correct approach these students can become active contributors in the classroom. Even though each child with ASD will differ greatly on an individual level, all will present common obstacles for the classroom.
Teachers must be able to meet the needs of students by creating an inclusive and productive learning environment for all. As children with ASD often have limited communication abilities and inadequate social skills, it can be challenging for the teacher to implement effective learning activities that cater for all developmental levels within the classroom. It can also be difficult to for them to form meaningful friendships which can lead to isolation. Problems in these areas often lead to difficult behaviour (Trapani, 2004).
This is a provision endorsed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to ensure “that students with disabilities are educated to the maximum extent appropriate with students who do not have disabilities” (Osborne & Dimattia, 1994, p. 1). This most commonly consists of inclusive programming in mainstream classrooms with individual programming, in addition to having necessary support. By creating an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for each child with ASD, the teacher can focus on the child’s strengths, program according to the child’s needs and adapt the classroom environment to maximise learning.
Many accommodations can be made to classroom practices which will enhance the learning opportunities for all students as many of the instruction techniques applied to children with ASD can also apply to a number of other children in the classroom. For example, a highly recommended approach to teaching students with ASD is to use visual aids because students with ASD often demonstrate strengths in concrete thinking, rote memory and visual-spatial relationships (Australian Advisory Board on Autism Spectrum Disorders, 2008).
While this is beneficial to the student with ASD it will also be beneficial to many other students in the classroom who are also visual learners. Rosenberg et al. (2008) advises that one crucial step towards making sure children with ASD are included in a positive way in the classroom is to ensure that classmates are well informed about the special needs of a peer with ASD. “Students with ASD who had positive inclusion experiences had nondisabled classmates who were told explicitly about their peers’ special needs” (Rosenberg et al. , 2008, p. 261).
In New South Wales, the State of NSW, Department of Education (2004) and Training have developed the Disability Action Plan 2004 to 2006 in order to comply with the New South Wales Disability Services Act 1993 and the Australian Government Disability Discrimination Act (1992). Education providers, including teachers in New South Wales are expected to comply with the standards of the Action Plan in order to ensure that every child, no matter their disability receives a quality education and is given every opportunity to reach their full potential (Commonwealth of Australia, 2006).
This must be done through taking appropriate measures to ensure that programs are designed to cater for individual requirements so that any student with a disability is able to participate in learning experiences on the same basis as a student without a disability, and without any discrimination (Commonwealth of Australia, 2006). People with disabilities have the same basic rights as anyone else and should be treated equally. 3. 1 Ethical Standards for Teachers: Parallel to this, teachers also have ethical responsibilities to adhere to.
Teachers must value and respect the diversity of all students by putting their welfare and educational needs first (Groundwater-Smith et al. , 2006). Teachers are obligated to ensure that all students with disabilities are free of any discrimination, are treated fairly, have appropriate adaptations in place, receive suitable support to assist learning, programs of study are provided in a way which the student can learn effectively, and that assessment is adapted so that the student can clearly demonstrate their understanding or competency (Groundwater-Smith et al. , 2006).
Teachers must ensure that students with disabilities are free of victimisation or harassment, and that adjustments are made to facilities and programs to cater for their needs (Commonwealth of Australia, 2006). Teachers also need to promote acceptance of people with disabilities amongst other teachers, students and the wider community. 4. 0 Conclusion: In conclusion ASD is a disorder where those diagnosed with it are identified with having impairments in social interaction, communication and behaviours. As a result all students with ASD have unique learning styles and experience difficulties in educational settings.