A ‘Toolbox’ to help teachers support autistic pupils

Autistic children are faced with exclusion from schools

 By Sarah Mackinnon

Teachers in Scotland are set to receive new support from the Government for coping with autistic pupils.

In line with Autism Awareness Day on 1st April, Holyrood has published a new resource for Scottish schools and local authorities called, ‘The Autism Toolbox‘.

This newly devised document is compiled from a range of practice experience, literature and research. It is now available through the Scottish Government and the Scottish Autism Network website. The resource offers in depth guidance for schools and local authorities to enable teachers to respond appropriately to autistic behaviour. 

The implementation of “The Autism Toolbox” is an important development which responds to a worrying trend of autistic children being excluded from mainstream schools. Research suggests that such pupils make easy targets for bullies, and are considered difficult to teach by teachers. Pupils with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD, (the blanket term which includes all the different sub groups of disability within the spectrum of autism) are over 20 times more likely to be excluded from school than those without special educational needs.

In 2006 statistics from the Scottish Executive showed that 141 autistic children were excluded from mainstream schools that year which was an increase of 62% from 2005. Chief Executive of the Scottish Society for Autism John Macdonald stated, 

We believe children with less severe ASD should be taught in mainstream schools to give them as ordinary a life as possible, but there is a risk that those who have trouble communicating in the classroom and need extra attention are regarded as disruptive because of the pressure schools are under to deliver the curriculum, and are therefore excluded. 

The parent of an autistic child from Edinburgh voices her concerns,

School staff are still viewing their [autistic children] behaviour as naughty lazy etc instead of seeing the amount of stress these children face on a daily basis within mainstream environment.

‘The Autism Toolbox’ was developed in direct response to reports, ‘Education for Pupils with Autism Spectrum Disorders’ by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education and ‘Make School Make Sense’  by the National Autistic Society.

Collectively, these reports found that 89% of schools were dissatisfied with the extent of teachers’ training in autism. Even in schools where there were autistic pupils, the results showed that only 12% of teachers had received any training, the majority for just one to four hours.

The important new resource is written by a team of various professional backgrounds and individuals on the autism spectrum. It was compiled by The National Centre for Autism Studies at the University of Strathclyde. 

The ‘Toolbox’ provides detailed practical advice for day to day life in a school. Ten key aspects of effective practice to support pre schools, primary and secondary schools and eight main aspects to support parents and families are detailed in the document.

The Government is also undertaking a number of other initiatives to help  schools provide support and services for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. These include, funding a National Development Officer to focus on transitions for all young people at risk of missing out on education and a two year action plan called ‘Framework for Inclusion’. This initiative aims to bring forward inclusive education in Initial Teacher Education and Continuous Professional Development. 

Autism, is defined by the Disabilities Trust as “a lifelong developmental difficulty which affects the way a person communicates and relates to the people around them”.

The disability affects more than 500, 000 families in the UK today.