Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disability affecting a childs social interaction, communication, imagination and performance at school Symes and Humphreyâ€Ž, 2011. The number of children with ASD is increasing in recent years, with prevalence rate estimated at 1 in 110 children in the US (Ryan et al, 2011). This means that public schools have to employ 'special education' instructors or train their existing faculty to cope with the demands of such students.
A study entitled â€Ž"Level of Preparation of â€¦. Autism â€ŽSpectrum Disorders" was carried out in the US state of Connecticut looked into how prepared are general education teachers in the state's public schools to include students with ASD in their classrooms (Teffs and Whitbread, 2009).
The survey was divided into three parts: 1) Demographics, experience, number of ASD students in the teacher's class. 2) The teachers' feelings towards inclusion of ASD students in their class and the challenges faced in teaching them. 3) Any ASD specific training the teachers might have had and how prepared they felt to deal with such students.
A total of 122 teachers, from kindergarten through high school, were surveyed throughout the state. Around half of the survey respondents were kindergarten and elementary school teachers. During the school year 2007-08, more than half of the teachers had at least one ASD student in their classes. Majority of teachers said that they did not have complete training in ASD.
Around 50% of the teachers had not received any formal training in social skills, communication and assistive technology regarding ASD, whereas only around 20% had college-level course for instructional strategies on ASD. Hence, 77% of the teachers felt that they required more training to better meet the requirements of ASD students. Interestingly, 80% of the teachers felt that inclusion of ASD students to their classrooms was appropriate, especially in cases where the student had mild ASD. Finally, 25% of the teachers cited 'behavioral difficulty' as the biggest challenge to dealing with ASD students, and some others mentioned lack of time, training and resources. Therefore, the study suggests that apart from general awareness about ASD, general education teachers need to be trained to effectively deal with students with ASD, as schools/colleges are the only platforms where such students can develop as individuals.
Another research in England was carried out to assess the usefulness and limitations of 'teaching assistants', who, working alongside with teachers, support students with ASD in the classroom (Symes, 2011). In the article â€Ž"The deployment, training and teacher â€¦in mainstream secondary schools" researchers reveal that 15 teaching assistants from secondary schools were interviewed about their roles inside the classroom, how they support ASD students, their relationship with teachers and whether they were well-trained for the job.
Most teaching assistants supported only one student in a class for some specified period of days. This meant that they had to support the students at many subjects, even if they were not well versed at all of them. Consequently, they themselves had little time to prepare lessons and the constant contact could be a strain for both the student and the teaching assistant. However, some saw it as an opportunity to strengthen their connection with students. In some schools, teaching assistants were assigned on the basis of subjects rather than to students.
The main role of teaching assistants was to make sure that the students remained focused and motivated during a lesson, understand what is being delivered and keep themselves organized. They also sorted out different social situations experienced by ASD students. Almost all the teaching assistants had no previous experience of dealing the students of ASD. Most of them had little prior training regarding ASD and said that they learned all about it on the job.
Since, every case of ASD is different; no amount of advice or training could prepare them for every possible case. In conclusion, it can be said that the teaching assistants should be trained such that they are able include ASD students to the mainstream school settings. They should be able to do more than just sit with the student and help him/her survive the day; rather, they should encourage ASD students to achieve their educational potential through self-development and skills learned at school.
Finally, another research study "Teaching students with ASD: Does teacher enthusiasm make a difference?" was conducted in the US investigates whether teacher enthusiasm makes any difference to teaching students with ASD (Natof and Romanczykâ€Ž, 2009). In the study, 12 children, already enrolled in a school for children with ASD, participated. They were given the simple tasks of match-to-sample, with increasing difficulty, supervised and instructed by teachers they had not met previously.
For the first round, the teachers were un-enthusiastic, giving minimum attention to the children. They sat slightly behind the student, gave instructions and performance feedback in a neutral tone without any physical contact and did not initiate any conversation. For the second round, the teachers were enthusiastic and gave full attention to the students. They sat in front of the student, made eye contact, gave high-five to the student and used encouraging facial expressions and voice for feedback.
The results of the survey were a draw. Out of the 12 participants, only 4 showed convincing variation between full-attention and no-attention conditions. 2 of them had performed better when the teacher had been enthusiastic and attentive while the other 2 had performed worse. Rest of the 8 students did not show conclusive variation. It can be concluded from the study that the perception that students with ASD performed better with higher teacher attention is invalid and applies only to very few students. A reason can be social avoidance.
It is plausible that a student was positively influenced by the teacher's enthusiastic praise but got distracted when asked to make eye-contact or conversation. This study goes onto show that not all cases of ASD are similar and that more research needs to be done on the behavioral psychology of students with ASD.