Educating Students with Diverse Abilities - Autism

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1.0 Introduction:

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are one of the most common disabilities teachers will face in the classroom. Approximately 1 in 160 children are being diagnosed with having ASD, with autistic disorder (autism) and Asperger's disorder the most prevalent (Australian Advisory Board on Autism Spectrum Disorders, 2007).

Australia promotes an inclusive education system meaning that all students with disabilities are encouraged and entitled to be educated within a general school setting where possible. Research shows that distinct improvements in children with ASD can be made if early diagnosis and the right interventions are implemented as early as possible (Australian Advisory Board on Autism Spectrum Disorders, 2008).

It is therefore important that generalist primary school teachers are educated about ASD and its multitude of diversity in order to be able to enhance the learning experiences and produce positive outcomes of children with ASD in their classrooms.

1.1 Overview of Autism Spectrum Disorder:

Autism Spectrum Disorders are lifelong developmental disabilities caused by brain abnormality (Dawson et al., 2002). The disorder can be defined by difficulties in social interaction, impaired communication, restricted or repetitive interests and behaviours, and sensory sensitivities (Rosenberg, Westling & McLesky, 2008). The word 'spectrum' is used to describe the disorder because the range and severity of the difficulties people with ASD experience can differ extensively. The British Columbia Ministry of Education Special Programs Branch (2000, p. 5) document that the Autism Spectrum Disorder umbrella is classified into the following five specific conditions:

Autistic Disorder (autism)
Asperger’s Disorder
Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD)
Rett’s Disorder
Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)

Autistic disorder (autism) and Asperger's disorder are the most predominant therefore, throughout this report the focus of the discussion will be based on these two disorders. The two disorders as defined by Rosenberg et al. (2008, p. 248) are defined by the following diagnostic measures. Autistic disorder (autism): "Severe developmental disability characterized by an early age of onset, poor social development, impairments in language development, and rigidity in behavior". Asperger's disorder: "Sustained and often lifelong impairments in social interactions and the development of restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, and activities".

Children with ASD do not follow usual patterns of child development and in some cases indications may be obvious from birth. In majority of situations, difficulties in communication, social skills and repetitive behaviours become more evident as the child lags further behind in meeting age appropriate milestones, or shows signs of differing behaviours compared with other children the same age.

Each of these indicators can range from very mild to severe and will display differently in each individual child. While every child will display communication, social, and behavioural patterns that are unique, they will all fit into the overall diagnosis of ASD.

2.0 Implications on Learning:

While each child who is diagnosed with ASD will differ greatly on an individual level, all of them will share some common characteristics which will greatly impact on their learning. Learning can be affected in a number of ways and in every case, early intervention has a strong impact on reducing symptoms and increasing a child's ability to develop and learn new skills (Rosenberg et al., 2008).

The State of Queensland (Department of Education and Training) (2006) assert that in an educational setting, ASD impacts on: social interactions, communication, restricted interests in behaviour and sensory processing. While children with ASD are capable of learning, they need a very structured environment to be...
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