Principals should lead the way in adopting a whole-school approach to the education of all students, including those with autism and other disabilities.
According to autism expert Professor Jacqueline Roberts, Director of Griffith University’s Autism Centre of Excellence, it is essential for principals to lead the training of teachers about autism and spread that knowledge throughout the school.
“Essentially, we think all children have a right to be educated in school and optimally children are best educated with their peers,’’ Professor Roberts said.
“For the vast majority of children with disabilities including children with autism, mainstream education remains the best setting for them.
“That’s where they are going to learn the skills that will enable them to participate in society, to have jobs, to learn how to engage and mix with other people.”
While acknowledging that some children with disabilities may need a more specialist setting, she said autism educators hoped mainstream schools would become better at providing programs for these children without taking time away from other children in the classes.
“Then the vast majority of children can be educated in mainstream settings.”
Physical environment understanding
Professor Roberts said there was also a need for how the environment can be managed to make it easier for kids with autism to actually function in the environment.
“We know for example, that children with autism often have sensory issues that make the actual physical environment of school really hard, because of lighting or the noise and those things can be managed, often at not much expense.”
A whole school approach would also help prevent bullying of children with autism.
“Children with autism have some specific problems with the social aspects of school. They don’t read that, they don’t get that so they tend to be the targets of bullying by other kids so we need programs that address that.
“We need programs for the whole school so all of the students understand autism better and it’s not ok to bully kids with autism.”
Read Professor Roberts response to Senator Pauline Hanson’s comments