What is the future of education for students with autism if external therapists are prohibited visiting classrooms? In Queensland, schools are beginning to prohibit external therapists such as Speech Pathologists, Psychologists and Occupational Therapists from visiting classrooms. These therapists provide a vital role in the support for children with autism. While therapists are directly employed by Education Queensland, they are overwhelmed with large caseloads. Consequently, many families choose to seek additional private therapy for their child. Such therapists have often worked with the family for several years and have a great deal of knowledge and education to offer classroom teachers.
I visited a school yesterday to provide teacher support for a 7-year-old boy with autism. His family were worried as he was struggling to make friends and was becoming increasingly distressed and lonely at school. At the school, I met two highly experienced and very capable teachers. The first teacher questioned the diagnosis as he was “very bright”. The second teacher thought he was doing very well and she couldn’t see any problems at school.
As I was in the classroom during a group based task, I was able to point out his challenges and strengths. I showed them how he struggled with reciprocity, how he didn’t get the collaborative nature of the task and how he didn’t respond to the social overtures of his classmate. His classroom teacher was overwhelmed and commented that in one hour she learned more about autism than she had at any of the many professional learning days she had attended.
This story is repeated regularly in my Speech Pathology practice, yet I foresee a day when I won’t be able to provide this much needed teacher education. With the number of students with autism in mainstream school increasing, schools face the challenge of proving a positive and successful educational experience for all students on the autism spectrum.
Collaboration between teachers, outside professionals and parents is seen as vital to the success of educating students with autism (Simpson, de Boer-Ott, & Smith-Myles, 2003). Professional learning for teachers shouldn’t only occur through workshops, but through coaching and consultation with external professionals with expertise in autism and with an understanding of the individual student (Odom, Cox, & Brock, 2013).
Ruble, L. A., Dalrymple, N. J., & McGrew, J. H. (2012). Collaborative model for promoting competence and success for students with ASD: Springer Science & Business Media.
Odom, S. L., Cox, A. W., & Brock, M. E. (2013). Implementation Science, Professional Development, and Autism Spectrum Disorders. Exceptional Children, 79(2), 233-251.
Simpson, R. L., de Boer-Ott, S. R., & Smith-Myles, B. (2003). Inclusion of learners with autism spectrum disorders in general education settings. Topics in Language Disorders, 23(2), 116.