Meeting the social and emotional needs of autistic students is the cornerstone of a positive educational experience, according to a new Australian Educational Needs Analysis report. The findings were presented at the ASPECT Autism in education conference in Melbourne.
“Parents, educators, students, and specialists surveyed overwhelmingly indicated social emotional well-being as an essential element in the successful schooling for autistic children,” said study co-leader Dr. Beth Saggers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT).
“Autistic children vary in their intellectual abilities and may find it difficult to plan and organize their time, cope with change, manage the social context of the school environment and at times stay calm and regulate their emotions.
“By promoting social competence and social emotional well-being, providing positive behavior support, assisting with planning and organizing, using technology, the individual needs of a child with autism can be addressed. This helps to positively influence their participation and engagement within the classroom environment,” said Saggers.
As the rate of diagnosis for children with autism has increased significantly over the last decade, the report indicated a high rate of exclusion with social and academic needs not often understood or supported.
The landmark two-year study, commissioned by the Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism, or Autism CRC, surveyed 1,500 people. These included 107 students on the spectrum (ages 11-18); 934 parents, relatives, and caregivers; and 234 educators and 172 specialists (psychologists, speech language therapists, etc.)
The Autism CRC Education Research Program is a national effort incorporating all school systems to provide autism-specific strategies to enable children on the spectrum to access the curriculum and school environments.
The findings also showed that teachers needed more support to provide inclusive classrooms.
“A one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with autistic children is not effective,” said co-leader Professor Suzanne Carrington. “Autism is just one area of diversity and the research demonstrated the need for schools to be flexible and agile to children’s needs, and often other students also benefit.”
Saggers said the research also highlighted issues and obstacles children faced during their school years but also emphasized the difficulties teachers experienced in trying to successfully meet their needs.
The Australia-wide survey involved all states including the viewpoints of educators, specialists, parents and students with ASD.