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(Ireland) "Autism-friendly schools" as 1 in 65 students has autism; teachers without training

Apr 27, 2021, Irish Times: Sensory rooms, trampolines and gardens: the rise of autism-friendly schools

While for many children, yard time is their favourite part of the school day, the noise and chaos can be overwhelming for children with autism. That’s why Anglesboro National School is transforming its yard by installing a sensory garden, trampoline and colourful flowers. “We already have a sensory room, but we feel that it would be nice for the children to have an outdoor space alongside the yard, so they have an area to go to, if they need it,” says Maria Murphy, teacher of the autism class at Anglesboro. The sensory garden is just one of the changes Murphy hopes to introduce to the school as part of the Autism Friendly Schools project. Introduced by the autism charity AsIAm, the programme aims to support schools in creating a more inclusive school culture for its students with autism. Given that most of the estimated one in 65 children with autism in Ireland attend mainstream schools, it is a challenge facing thousands of education settings…. Hannah O’Dwyer, education officer at AsIAm, says it is important for schools to look at the whole school building if they are trying to create an environment that is truly inclusive for students with autism…. “It is a lovely exercise in itself to help them be aware that people experience things differently,” says O’Dwyer. “Particularly for younger, autistic children, they don’t necessarily know that someone is experiencing something differently from them.”… “The more we work with primary and secondary, the better the experience is going to be, especially for the young child who is coming in with an additional need,” says Billy Redmond, school principal and project co-ordinator for the programme. “We are trying to build a real sense that we are in this together.”… While many schools and teachers are keen to do more to support children with autism, a recent study from Lorna Barry of University of Limerick indicates that many teachers do not receive adequate training in relation to autism. As a result, evidence-based practices are not being employed consistently when teaching students with autism. She found that 33 per cent of teachers surveyed had no autism training. Teachers interviewed for the study said they faced challenges such as accessing on-time, over-subscribed training courses or training that wasn’t meeting some of their needs. “What we were finding as well from our research is that teachers were not able to access support from external professionals as much as they needed,” says Barry. Murphy, for example, says she received no training or experience in an autism class when she was at college. “So you are newly put into the classroom and you have no training. You are trying to find your feet and you are trying to do the training during the year, it is not ideal,” she says. “It is such a broad area and you need support from other people, it is hard to do everything, from occupational therapy to speech and language therapy and teach.” Yet, the use of evidence-based practices improves educational outcomes for students with autism. “It can also be linked to less stress and less burnout for the teachers having those improved outcomes for the student,” says Barry. Her study suggests that teachers need more access to training along with a broader range of ongoing supports to assist them with the successful implementation of evidence-based practices. “When we have 63 per cent of our autistic students now being educated in a mainstream classroom, it is really important for mainstream teachers to be made aware of these practices and to be supported in implementing them to facilitate that inclusive education,” says Barry.


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