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(Canada) Edmonton: Autism numbers have "exploded" in school; staff needs "better training"

Jan 22, 2018, (Canada) Edmonton Journal: Edmonton schools cope with explosion in number of students on autism spectrum http://edmontonjournal.com/health/family-child/edmonton-schools-cope-with-explosion-in-number-of-students-on-autism-spectrum The number of students on the autism spectrum enrolled in Edmonton Public Schools has exploded during the last decade and a half. Between 2004 and 2017, the number of pupils in Grades 1-12 diagnosed with autism has leapt 6-1/2 times, to 1,344 from 207. Global enrolment in the district grew 23 per cent in that same time period. Historically, Edmonton Catholic Schools hasn’t tallied students with autism, but staff are starting. The number of students enrolled in that district with a severe medical or physical disability, which includes students on the spectrum, grew to 692 this fall from 305 in 2004. Unpredictable needs About one in 68 children are diagnosed with autism, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The neurological disorder seems to stem from a combination of genetic and environmental factors, such as parents’ ages, premature birth, oxygen deprivation during delivery and a pregnant mother’s exposure to pollution or pesticides, among other potential causes…. Both districts have organized, or funded, more staff professional development about autism, both in person and online, as its prevalence grows. … What school employees need is better training, and more consistent understanding of the disorder among schools and districts, say the people tasked with helping families navigate schools. Strategies that work for one student could be useless with another, Terrett said. What Edmonton schools are doing to include students with autism • Edmonton Catholic Schools screens all students in 103 pre-kindergarten classes for conditions that could affect their learning, such as autism, said Rhonda Lang, director of inclusive education. • Edmonton Catholic has planned training for district psychologists to diagnose autism, to help reduce wait times at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, said Alara Hedebring, who manages district psychologists. • Students in both districts have access to professionals such as occupational therapists, psychologists, early learning facilitators, reading specialists, therapeutic assistants and board-certified behavioural analysts, along with teams of professionals who travel between schools to determine what adaptations might help. • Both districts can provide “assistive technology,” such as tablets with programs to help students communicate. • Many schools have sensory rooms with dim lighting, soft furniture, soothing music and cylinders of bubbling water. …