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8 March, 2019 00:00 00 AM

Students with autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a development disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioural challenges
Mohammed Abul Kalam, PhD
Students with autism
Autism handprint project

Students with autism often present unique challenges to schools, and teachers can often find it difficult to meet their needs effectively. Internationally, around 1 in 68 children are now diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). About 1 in 59 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) according to estimates from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. ASD is reported to occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.ASD is about 4 times more common among boys than among girls.Studies in Asia, Europe, and North America have identified individuals with ASD with an average prevalence of between 1% and 2%.About 1 in 6 children in the United States had a developmental disability in 2006-2008, ranging from mild disabilities such as speech and language impairments to serious developmental disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and autism.

 There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.

A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. These conditions are now all called autism spectrum disorder.

A recent study found that among the 934 parents who were surveyed, approximately 77% had children on the spectrum attending mainstream schools.It also found that, in general, teachers only felt slightly confident in their ability to support students with autism, while parents were even less certain of teachers’ confidence to teach their children with autism.

Teachers, then, need to have a better understanding of autism and how it may affect learning. They also need help putting appropriate strategies in place.

Impact of autism on a student’s life: Every person on the autism spectrum is unique and their needs will be reflected differently. Challenges experienced interacting socially and communicating with others are common among students on the spectrum, and will have an impact on every aspect of their lives. These challenges can lead to levels of stress, anxiety and depression that are much higher than for other students. Up to 72% of students on the autism spectrum have additional mental health needs.

Classrooms are social environments that rely heavily on being able to interact, socialise and communicate with others effectively. This can intensify the stress, anxiety and depression students on the spectrum may experience. This can present unique challenges for schools and teachers, with students on the spectrum being times more likely than their peers to require additional learning and social support services.

Research shows the importance of understanding the link between academic learning and social and emotional competence. A lack of social-emotional competence can lead to not only a decrease in a student’s connection with school, but also academic performance. This reinforces the notion that social-emotional learning has a critical role to play in learning, as well as in school attendance, classroom behaviour, and academic engagement for all students. The heavy focus on academic aspects of the curriculum and the demand for data-driven accountability that schools are required to address often result in the focus on social and emotional learning and mental health being overshadowed or pushed to one side.

Misinformation around inclusion: Inclusion is about being proactive in identifying the barriers learners encounter in attempting to access opportunities for quality education, and then removing those barriers. Ensuring that each individual has an equal opportunity for educational progress remains a challenge worldwide. Sustainable Development Goal 4 on Education and the Education 2030 Framework for Action emphasize inclusion and equity as laying the foundations for quality education.

The UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960) and other international human rights treaties prohibit any exclusion from, or limitation to, educational opportunities on the basis of socially-ascribed or perceived differences, such as by sex, ethnic/social origin, language, religion, nationality, economic condition, ability.Reaching excluded and marginalized groups and providing them with quality education requires the development and implementation of inclusive policies and programmes.In this context, UNESCO promotes inclusive education systems that remove the barriers limiting the participation and achievement of all learners, respect diverse needs, abilities and characteristics and that eliminate all forms of discrimination in the learning environment.

UNESCO works with governments and partners to address exclusion from, and inequality in, education. Among marginalized and vulnerable groups, UNESCO pays special attention to children with disabilities as they are overrepresented in the population of those who are not in education. Indigenous people also continue to experience exclusion within and from education.It is about meeting the needs of all children to ensure they get a quality education and have the opportunity to reach their potential.

Often assumptions are made that “inclusion” means students need to be in mainstream classrooms at all times. When inclusion is interpreted in this way, students may be unable to access adjustments that adequately address and meet their needs. The implementation of any adjustments needs to be tailored to the students’ individual needs.Schools also need to be careful not to run the risk of over generalizing, as students with autism can be as different from each other as any other students. Students on the spectrum often need time away from other students and the demands of the mainstream classroom. The frequency with which this needs to happen will be based on the individual needs of the students involved, and where they go in these situations would be dependent on the school setting.Doing this would help them to not only manage the social and sensory challenges of the school environment, but also the stress and anxiety they can experience.

Ideas for teachers: During the survey, students with autism, we can make some suggestions as to how teachers could better support their needs.It might be useful if teachers could help them cope with change and transition by simply reminding them when a change was looming. They also may be asked to use a tablet or laptop to help with school work, instead ofhandwriting. This can help students on the spectrum overcome many of the motor skill difficulties that make handwriting difficult.Giving students a copy of instructions or information that their teacher writes on the board may also help. Students with autism can find tasks requiring a lot of planning and organization such as managing assignments, participating in assessments, navigating learning tasks, and completing homework extremely difficult. This can have a negative impact on their cognitive, social and academic ability.

Schools could allow older students to take photos of these instructions using their mobile phone or tablet.Having a quiet space to complete their assessments and getting assistance with organizing themselves and the social aspects of school were also raised as important strategies.

How to better support students: There are a number of barriers to providing better and appropriate support to meet the educational needs of students with autism.

These include: funding, lack of knowledge and training, lack of specialist support staff and time, lack of appropriate resourcing and class sizes.

Funding can impact on the amount of resourcing, support and specialist staff available to teachers to help individualize their approach.

The use of flexible and individually tailored educational approaches is crucial. This requires that teachers have an array of adjustments and resource options which can be implemented both in and outside of the classroom environment.Input from a multidisciplinary team that includes educational specialists and allied health professionals should also be available. It is not enough to give teachers professional development on autism. They need additional help from appropriate specialist staff to put adjustments in place that fit within the context of their classroom and school.

The writer is former Head, Department of Medical Sociology,

Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control & Research (IEDCR),

Dhaka, Bangladesh

E-mail: [email protected]



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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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