John Brigg (2009) The Approach to the Education of  Students with Autism in Australia. 

 

John Brigg (2009). The Approach to the Education of Students with Autism in Australia.

Australasian Journal of Special Education, 33, pp 1­5


Background
Autism has come a long way since early studies by John Kanner from Johns Hopkins University in the 1940s. Kanner’s paper ‘Autistic Disturbance of Affective Contact’ described the unique behaviour of 11 children. Kanner’s work is recognised today as the foundation of our understanding of autism and included the following student characteristics(pp1)
• inability to relate to others
• excellent rote memory
• monotonously repetitious noises and motions
• little spontaneous activity.




Something that many new practitioners to the field of Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are shocked to learn is that the "condition" was believed to be caused by the lack of motherly contact given to babies in their early years (p.1). Although we know this not to be the case today we are not any closer to understanding the causes of ASD. Even back then coming up with a cause did nothing to build upon knowledge to assist teachers to meet the needs of these often demanding students in the classroom.  
Brigg is an advocate of systematic and intensive applied behaviour analysis (ABA) something he says has been largely ignored in Australian education settings.  Early identification is the key to early intervention. Despite the Australian Government assistance in this it does not go far enough to cover the costs of the interventions required.  It also takes highly motivated parents who can devote the time to take their children to these therapies.  Once the children start school the needs then are placed on the classroom teacher who in some cases may not have the specialized knowledge or time to deal with the students specific needs.Whilst Primary teachers do a great job by the time the student has reached the transition to Secondary social and educational difficulties are exacerbated as the gap between the student and his/ her peers widens. Students find they increasingly dont 'fit in'. The progression into puberty and self discovery both within society and sexually further compound issues and in many cases can lead to depression.

Putting in place effective support mechanisms is key to overcoming these difficulties.  These include establishing good relationships with support personal and having empathetic teachers. Beneficial I have found is cognitive behaviour therapy to provide skills in managing stress, anxiety or anger.  Teaching these skills explicitly in the early years of secondary school enable them to be reinforced as the student grows and is presented with new problems. 

Brigg outlines that to be effective with children or young people with autism teachers need to be trained in the methodologies that are the foundation of special education:
• able to conduct a comprehensive needs analysis
• able to collaborate with key people, including the young person with autism, to
design a meaningful individual plan
• able to teach directly and explicitly, maintain meaningful data and to be able to analyse that data as the basis for adjusting the educational program
• have a deep understanding of the principles of behaviour and how they apply to the
classroom — not just to the student but to the environment as whole
• able to work in teams as well as having good people management skills
• have a deep understanding of the impact on autism on the child and be able to relate
to parents with empathy.


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