Autism Training & Teachers

This post was originally featured on SailsGroup.com

A new law in England just mandated that every new teacher undergo autism training before entering classrooms. This important initiative will mean that by September 2018, teachers there will be better equipped with techniques geared at helping students on the spectrum learn effectively and thrive in school.

This successful campaign was spearheaded by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, after she received letters from the National Autistic Society (NAS) and Ambitious about Autism, two organizations working to bring about autism mandates in the classroom. With more than 1% of children in UK schools identified on the autism spectrum, the need for core training programs cannot be overlooked any longer. Teachers have so far been underprepared to help ASD students because training programs directed at the unique needs of special needs students have not been required.

Luckily, all that is about to change in the UK, largely thanks to Ms. Morgan’s passion for the initiative, along with the support of UK-based autism organizations who worked to bring about this mandate. This required training will help new teachers adapt and understand how best to teach children with ASD, and also to create a more inclusive environment to help autistic studentssucceed.

In the United States we are just now looking at introducing more of a mandatory ASD training for teachers. One federal education law called IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act) requires that each state provide eligible children with a free public education geared toward special needs. This law means that children, regardless if they are on the spectrum or not, must be given an education that is suitable for their special needs. But as leaders in the ASD community, we must rally to follow England’s example so that we can implement the same level of nationwide ASD training programs for teachers across America.

This sort of legislation is important because there is a rising incidence of ASD diagnoses all over the world. In fact, there is a new government study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 1 in 45 children ages 3–17 will be diagnosed on the spectrum in 2016, which is a far higher incidence than their previous estimate of 1 in 68 children.

Some states are taking this problem into their own hands. For instance, New York requires its new teachers to take a 3-hour autism teaching workshop that covers the definition, prevalence, characteristics, and evidence-based methods and interventions that will help teachers to helpchildren on the spectrum. Mandatory training at a federal level should be our next big push so that our children, and those who teach our children, will be set up for success in the classroom and beyond.

It is imperative for teachers who are educating autistic children to understand the behavioral challenges our children face in a classroom setting. Students with autism can experience issues in verbal fluency and paying attention. They may lack social cues and differentiated responses and can be unresponsive to questions, tasks, or demands.

For students on the spectrum, school can be a particularly challenging hurdle, especially when teachers are unaware of how to work with those on the spectrum. We must make it our priority to enable teachers around the world to learn to utilize different teaching styles that fit the strengths of children on all areas of the spectrum. England’s new law is a great step in the right direction!