Yesterday was a momentous day for UK education, as it was announced that autism will now be part of the "core" learning for teachers. A survey conducted by NASUWT revealed that roughly 60% of teachers had not been given the training necessary to teach children on the autistic spectrum, despite the fact that every teacher will have autistic students in their classes at some point.
"Today's announcement is very promising and, if followed through, will transform the prospects of generations of children on the autism spectrum. Simple changes, like gradually preparing a child for changes and communicating them carefully, can make a huge difference. Every teacher deserves the right training, and every autistic child needs a teacher who understands them."
Over 1 in 100 children are on the autistic spectrum and 70% of those children are going to mainstream school, meaning they are being taught by individuals unprepared to support their needs. Ambitious About Autism found that because of this lack of appropriate support, over half of parents of autistic children kept their children off school.
Every teacher deserves the right training, and every autistic child needs a teacher who understands them
Having had enough, campaigners decided to launch #EveryTeacher, an attempt to tackle this problem head on. This campaign led to over 7,000 teachers, MPs and members of the public signing a letter to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan about the issue. The letter was launched by The National Autistic Society and Ambitious About Autism urging autism to be included in the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) framework for England, which is currently under review by the Government. 58% of children and young people on the autism spectrum surveyed by the National Autistic Society last year said that teachers understanding would be the one thing that would make school better for them.
"It is crucial that teachers receive training on how to identify a child who may have autism, and how to refer them for further support. Too many children with autism miss out on the vital support they need to succeed at school because their autism isn't recognised. Excellent training is available – through the Autism Education Trust and others – and we need to share expertise in autism better across schools."
The focus of the training is to help train teachers identify the needs of autistic students and accommodate them as you would any other child. This understanding will help create a safer environment for these children to learn and not feel discouraged.
"We don't need every teacher to be an autism expert – but we do need them to know how to help families access that expertise. The lack of autism awareness training for teachers is also likely to have serious knock-on effects. For example, teachers need better support when it comes to recognising the difference between disability and disobedience, otherwise children with autism will continue to be excluded from school due to a lack of support for them to access learning in the classroom. Also, research shows that 40% of children with autism have been bullied. Again, teachers need to be trained to prevent the bullying of children with autism."
Jody Coxon's sons Cameron (13) and Harry (11) are on the autism spectrum and struggled in mainstream schools because they weren't equipped to meet their complex needs. She said,
"My sons look like any other child but have high anxiety in social situations and are so sensitive to noise that they really struggle in busy and loud classrooms. But with more knowledge of autism, their teachers would have been better able to pick up on these difficulties and work with me to help address them. While my children would have always needed more specialist support, this would have made their time there so much easier and probably helped them get the right support earlier."
The Initial Teacher Training framework review is said to report back this summer.