The 2017 paper, ‘comparison of the effects of mainstream and special school on National Curriculum outcomes in children with autism spectrum disorder’, makes for informative reading but research is still limited on autism and mainstream education.
Whatever side of the debate people exist on and pending future research, there is currently a high number of children with ASD in mainstream education (as many as 71% of diagnosed pupils). Considering the number of undiagnosed children it could be a much higher number.
These children are in the education system now so work must be done to ensure the mainstream education experience is positive for all students, including those with autism.
As a provider of sensory rooms, and disability adaptions, the RISE team speak to many schools and educators, and feel there is currently a definite turning tide to improve the mainstream school environment for children with autism.
There are just over 1000 specialist schools in the UK to cater for children with additional needs, but 1 in every 100 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder meaning there is a large number of diagnosed children not attending special schools.
Not every child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder will need to attend a specialist school, many attend mainstream school and have no issue. However, some children need more support and with even a few minor adjustments can benefit from attending a mainstream school.
That is not to say there aren’t issues with children with autism attending mainstream schools. A quick search on Google shows there is lots of anecdotal evidence from both parents and teachers who feel schools are not equipped to teach autistic children adequately, can’t provide a safe environment, or give children a positive experience with education.
Sadly, issues in mainstream education can lead to the exclusion of children with autistic spectrum disorders, or in some cases, bullying from other children. If there aren’t enough specialist schools to cater to families that need them and children with autism are attending mainstream schools, then mainstream schools need to adapt to be truly inclusive.
It is currently thought that around 71% of children with autism attend mainstream schools, which is a worrying statistic when research frequently shows schools are not equipped to support autistic children.
We conducted a survey of senior leaders and teachers within mainstream education and over 90% of participants indicated they directly supported or taught pupils with autism.
Despite the fact many of these teachers had received training, very few participants were confident in their ability to support students with autism.
Currently, there is no legislation to say children with autism must attend a special school or that mainstream schools must have teachers specifically experienced or trained to work with children with autism spectrum disorders. The only requirement is that each school must have a designated SENCO (Specialist Education Needs Coordinator).
Many schools are adjusting themselves to make the school environment more inclusive for pupils of all abilities. One such school is Cherry Orchard Primary School in Charlton.
The school has a strong commitment to inclusive practice driven by a senior leadership team that includes an executive principal, head of school and assistant head who are all trained SENCOs. One way the school has worked to improve the learning environment for children with different needs is with the installation of a sensory room.
Sensory rooms have long been known to be beneficial for children diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorders but have traditionally been associated with special schools. It is only in recent years that sensory rooms have started to be adopted by mainstream schools, perhaps linked to the high number of autistic students now present in the education system.
Schools like Cherry Orchard believe there is a clear benefit to having a sensory room on site. Pupils can use the facility to take time out, returning to learning when they feel better equipped. This is extremely beneficial to children with autism who may have sensory processing issues but also benefits other children who don’t have an autism diagnosis but have sensory issues or other developmental disorders such as ADHD.
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