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July 6, 2023, Schools Week: Why we need mandatory training for autism and learning disabilities
Autism and learning disabilities training is now mandatory for health and social care - and education should be next, writes Paula McGowan

When my son Oliver died in intensive care in 2016, I was determined what happened to him should never happen to anyone else. Hospitalised earlier for seizures, he was given medication in hospital he (and we) had told staff he should not receive. It caused his brain to swell, and he never recovered from the effects.

It has been a long battle, but last year mandatory training for health and care staff in how to work with people with autism and learning disabilities was passed into law with the health and care act (2022). Oliver McGowan Mandatory Training on Learning Disability and Autism is the standardised training that was developed for this purpose and is the government’s preferred and recommended training for health and social care staff.

But our fight isn’t over. Last week, we launched a petition calling for a new law that would require all staff in educational settings from early years to universities also to be trained on learning disability and autism.

Too many neurodivergent students have negative experiences of school. To many are excluded or unable to attend due to traumas suffered at school. These can lead to mental health issues, self-harm, suicidal ideation and PTSD. …

And teachers deserve better too, especially in a system that is so short of special school places and is placing more and more children with higher needs in mainstream schools. They deserve to be given skills to do the job that is required of them: to make reasonable adjustments, to adapt their communication and their environments, to understand sensory crisis, overload, anxiety, and masking, and to recognise and neutralise their own unconscious biases.

The numbers speak for themselves. A report by the National Autistic Society (NAS) shows that just 14 per cent of teachers have received autism training. This is shocking statistic considering that 73 per cent of the 180,000 autistic pupils in England are educated in mainstream schools. According to NAS, autistic children are twice as likely to be excluded from school when teachers do not receive appropriate training.

7 in 10 say school would be better if more teachers understood autism

Indeed, 54 per cent of autistic students said having teachers who don’t understand them is the worst thing about school, and seven in 10 said school would be better if more teachers understood autism. …


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