Understanding Autism

St Michaels Stanmore chill out room

The chill out room at St Michael’s Catholic Primary Stanmore.

“You meet one child with ASD, you’ve met one child with ASD.”

That’s the wisdom of Special Needs Education experts who manage the diversity of students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Karen Cahill, Catholic Education Office Head of Diverse Learning, personalises this further: “when we enrol a student with autism in our schools, the whole school enrols the student and it’s essential every teacher knows and embraces that student.”

Catholic educators are attempting to meet the demand for special needs education in a disability where there’s an increasing diagnosis and boys far outnumber girls.

Nationwide – aside from mental health – Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the biggest growth area in special needs.

Autism is incurable but a recent study by the University of Sydney Brain and Mind Centre has found that a synthetic version of the “cuddle/trust/love” hormone oxytocin used as a nasal spray improved social responsiveness in some children with autism.

The CEO has stepped up to the education challenge and signed a three-year contract in the last 12 months with an online UK training provider called Online Training (OLT UK) to help build teacher capacity to meet the needs of students with ASD.

Mrs Cahill said the CEO was having a huge rollout of these courses from January 2016 onwards.

Members of the newly created Diverse Learning teams: Leaders of Learning Special Education K-12, Learning Hearing and Vision, speech pathologists and team leaders from across the schools have just been trained as tutors by visiting UK facilitators in ‘Understanding Autism’.

These 18 tutors will work in pairs with groups of 12 teachers across the three regions in accredited 20-hour professional learning experiences, endorsed by the Board of Studies Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES).

“By the end of next year we’ll have four or five different courses related to diverse learning needs of students on offer, with a bank of tutors to roll out these courses to teachers,” said Mrs Cahill.

In addition to this new strategy, the CEO has had a ten-year partnership with Aspect Australia – Australia’s biggest non-profit autism service provider.

Presently ASPECT has 20 satellite classes over 10 schools across all regions.

“Aspect provides the teachers for the satellite classes, the CEO offers the onsite classrooms and funds Learning Support Officers,” said Mrs Cahill.

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