The rising number of students with autism is impacting schools across the country, but new resources are available to help school boards and school staff members work with these children to help them cope with educational and social challenges.
NSBA’s National Affiliate program held a webinar, “The Key is Leadership: Success in School for Students with Autism,” cosponsored by Autism Speaks and the National Association of Elementary School Principals, to help school officials understand the disability.
The rates of autism have risen exponentially in the past 20 years, and now one in 110 children, and one in 70 boys, have been diagnosed with the neurological disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Part of the reason for the increase is that pediatricians and school staff have become much more aware of the symptoms, which include social difficulties, communication challenges, and repetitive or odd behaviors.
The condition presents itself differently in each person, and each person acts and learns in different ways, noted Lisa Goring, the director of family services with Autism Speaks, an advocacy and educational group. “It’s often said if you’ve seen one person with autism, you’ve seen one person with autism,” she said.
The condition impacts a students’ schoolwork through their processing of concepts and behavioral disabilities. The challenge for schools is figuring out ways to work with their learning patterns. One example shown was a child who was offered pretzels, an apple, or graham crackers for a snack. The teacher always presented the options in that order and the boy always chose graham crackers, but he was usually unhappy and threw out his snack. A developmental specialist realized that the boy could not remember the choices and always chose the one that was presented lastso instead she showed pictures of each snack and the boy learned to choose the pretzels.
Like other disabilities, early detection and intervention is crucial to successeducators need to have a student evaluated if they suspect a developmental delay or specific sign of autism.
Another important factor for school officials to consider is the acceptance of the student with autism among their peers, said Peter Faustino, the school psychologist at Fox Lane Middle School in Bedford, N.Y. His school has set up a peer-buddy system to help students with autism better integrate into regular classes and socialize with their nondisabled peers. The program has also helped the other students empathize and accept the students with autism.
The Bedford school district also integrates information about autism into its professional development for teachers and administrators, who have been very receptive to the training, Faustino said.
“Autism can be looked at as another culture that we are trying to integrate into the school,” he said.
Autism Speaks offers a free kit to educators and advice on working with parents to provide a better educational experience, including a video, which can be downloaded at www.autismspeaks.org/whatisit/talking_to_parents_action_kit.php.
This webinar, including the video, PowerPoint presentations, and additional resources, will be archived at www.nsba.org/webchannelNA.