Allan Vester is quoted on 3 news as saying about autistic students; “The needs of some of these students are so high that no amount of professional development will turn the average teacher into someone who is able to deal with them,” says Mr Vester.
“If we are going to put this level of need in the mainstream – and that seems to be what is wanted – then they do need special resources.”
I think this reflects the main fundamental misconception of the autistic spectrum – that people who are within the spectrum are violent, and not only that it is ‘unpredictable and violent for no reason’. The training I delivered to a number of schools around Christchurch in my RTLB autism role was highly successful and enabled a large number of regular teachers to be more effective in teaching kids on the spectrum. The goal of professional development in this area is to help teachers understand AS ‘from the inside’ and see how they can minimise meltdowns and maximise engagement and learning. Enforcing societal norms or rather trying to is not a great management technique for these students precisely because we see the world differently from the spectrum. Maximising engagement may mean that a student is out of the room running up and down until they are ready to re-engage, it does not mean making them sit down ‘to learn’ at every moment the rest of the class is. Some schools and teachers genuinely struggle to believe that those of us on the spectrum really are wired so differently that we hear, see, feel differently, have a different understanding and response to hierarchy which is based in our seemingly innate strong sense of social justice. I understand the bid for more resources BUT managing autism should not be about sticking a teacher aide with a student, especially as many high school students on the spectrum do not want a teacher aide attached to them as it marks them out as even more different, managing autism should be about getting to know and use the strengths of the students and helping them identify and work with their challenges. After all some of us on the spectrum manage to be not just average teachers but excellent teachers who can handle all kinds of students. My text book for primary and pre-school teachers is a start for those interested. Links below. However it is vital that teacher education in this area is provided by either educators who are themselves on the spectrum or in conjunction with those on the spectrum and this is because the only way for those not on the spectrum to understand autistic spectrum kids to learn what is is actually like to be on the spectrum. With the best will in the world parents and AutismNZ cannot provide that, unless of course parents themselves are on the spectrum and unless AutismNZ begins to employ more adults in the spectrum and listen to them and use them to support families and schools.
“Understanding and facilitating the achievement of autistic potential” from Amazon Australia in kindle or in hardcopy from Amazon USA