Teacher knowledge of autism-related behaviour is a key factor in successful classroom outcomes.
PhD candidate Libby Macdonald from Griffith University and The Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism (Autism CRC), said with about 73 per cent of students on the autism spectrum enrolled in mainstream schools in Australia, the focus should be on ensuring all teachers and students are supported in an environment.
“There is evidence that all children benefit from having students with disabilities in the classrooms,” she said.
“They can learn more about other members of their community, and become more understanding and tolerant by witnessing and contributing to the care and support of children with different needs.
“If there are concerns about the impact of having students with disabilities in our classrooms, perhaps the focus should be on providing additional teaching and professional development resources rather than singling out a student or group of students.”
Ms Macdonald said strategies designed for use in special education settings were not always feasible for teaching children on the spectrum in mainstream classrooms, but that researchers could work with teachers to develop effective support strategies.
“Mainstream classroom teachers may not have training or professional development in supporting children on the autism spectrum,” Ms Macdonald said.
“Yet without this knowledge, they may be unable to identify the needs and characteristics of the children in their classrooms and design and implement the appropriate tools.”
In her recently published research in the International Journal of Inclusive Education, Ms Macdonald used a case-study approach to investigate how teachers might use and adapt established strategies to support students in their own classrooms.
She worked with an Australian primary school teacher to create visual schedules and task checklists to help students understand what was expected of them and when and how to move to other classroom tasks.
While her research was not designed to measure the effectiveness of the tools themselves, it demonstrates the possibilities of “participatory research” in mainstream classrooms for other similar intervention studies.
“The use of a single case trial like this one can form the basis of further discussion about ways in which research projects can be tailored to educational settings, making research more relevant to mainstream contexts, and preparing researchers for the possible challenges they may encounter,” she said.