Students with autism spectrum disorder could benefit from their teachers undertaking specialist training.
Recent research from Florida State and Emory Universities found that children with autism spectrum disorder whose teachers were specifically trained in this area interacted more with their teachers and peers, participated more frequently in class activities and had a higher frequency of two-way conversations.
Researchers observed 60 public schools over a three year period with a mix of special education and general teachers to see how effective a curriculum called SCERTS was.
The SCERTS curriculum was developed in 2006 for teachers of students with autism spectrum disorder and is aimed at addressing some of the main challenges that can come from autism spectrum disorder. The curriculum equips teachers to address social communication, emotional regulation and transactional support (working in collaboration with those at school and at home to best serve the interests and enhance the learning of a child with autism spectrum disorder).
The researchers say that although there is a large amount of research on preschool aged children with autism spectrum disorder, this study is one of few that explored the efficacy of treatments in children of school-age.
60 schools from 10 districts: seven in Florida, two in Georgia and one in California were selected to participate in the study. Schools were randomly paired and in each pair one school was randomly assigned as an ATM (autism training modules).
The schools categorised as an ATM were given regular classroom instruction, where only a website with modules related to autism was made available to teachers.
The other school in the pair was assigned as a CSI (classroom SCERTS intervention). These schools gave teachers three days of SCERTS training, access to more reference materials, regular coaching and videos of themselves teaching in classrooms.
The researchers found that the schools that were designated as CSI and were given extra training and resources outperformed those schools that were designated as ATM and only given an online module. The schools that had teachers with more training had greater classroom engagement and respect for social interactions in the classroom. Use of video was helpful in allowing both researchers and schools to see how the SCERTS training had impacted classrooms.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 59 children (one in 151 girls and one in 37 boys) have autism spectrum disorder. The condition influences how a person socializes and perceives other people. This can make social interaction and communication difficult.
The disorder usually begins in early childhood, with most children showing signs of the disorder within the first year of life. Reduced eye contact, indifference to care givers and not responding to their name can be early warning signs. Some children may not show symptoms in their first few months or year of life, but then become withdrawn or aggressive suddenly, or lose language skills. As children develop, autism spectrum disorder can cause problems functioning in every day society, particular at school, work or socially.
Due to the nature of the condition, children with autism spectrum disorder may find the school environment difficult. Some have difficulty learning and show signs of lower than normal intelligence. Others with the disorder have normal to high intelligence; picking things up quickly, but struggling to apply the knowledge they have gained in everyday life, or in adjusting to social settings.
The researchers from Florida State and Emory University say that there is a significant need to change how schools are educating students with autism spectrum disorder. They note that general education teachers in most US states are not required to have specialist autism training. Notwithstanding that, these teachers often do have children in their class with autism spectrum disorder.
The study authors argue that their research proves that a system such as SCERTS provides a realistic, comprehensive intervention model that can be utilised in a number of different educational settings and classrooms.
It’s hoped that adapting and modifying teaching methods in classrooms, and implementing training systems like SCERTS would not only benefit students on the autism spectrum, but also the whole class.
Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist and producer. Her work has appeared on Healthline, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Sydney Morning Herald, News.com.au, Escape, The Cusp and Skyscanner. You can read more of her articles here. Or learn more about Elizabeth and contact her via her LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.