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Educating Children with Autism
Teachers must be familiar with theory and research concerning best practices for children with autistic spectrum disorders, including methods of applied behavior analysis, naturalistic learning, incidental teaching, assistive technology, socialization, communication, inclusion, adaptation of the environment, language interventions, assessment, and the effective use of data collection systems. Specific problems in generalization and maintenance of behaviors also affect the need for training in methods of teaching children with autistic spectrum disorders. The wide range of IQ scores and verbal skills associated with autistic spectrum disorders, from profound mental retardation and severe language impairments to superior intelligence, make the need for training of personnel even greater. To enable teachers to adequately work with parents and with other professionals to set appropriate goals, teachers need familiarity with the course of autism and the range of possible outcomes.
Effective programming for children with autism and their families requires that the direct service provider (e.g., special education teacher, regular education teacher, early childhood teacher, speech and language pathologist) be a part of a support system team, not an isolated individual, that is struggling with complex neurological, sociological, educational, and behavioral problems. What is needed is a support infrastructure that can provide the direct service provider with the needed assistance (Gallagher and Clifford, 2000). Just as a physician in medicine is surrounded by an infrastructure of specialists, laboratories, medical schools, support personnel, and pharmaceutical research, a program for children with autistic spectrum disorders should have the various elements of infrastructure noted in Box 14.1. As shown in the box, there is a need for personnel preparation to produce qualified teachers and support staff and to provide technical assistance to answer problems faced by local practitioners, as well as to generate research, enhance communication, and support demonstration projects. As discussed earlier in the report, prevalence estimates of autistic spectrum disorders reflect continuing increases in the number of children who need services. The Twentieth Annual Report to Congress from the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education (OSEP) (1999:III–I) announced, “There is a serious shortage of special education teachers.”
Finding certified teachers in special education has always been an uphill struggle. If there is a shortage in general special education, that shortage is even more serious in the growing field of autistic spectrum disorders. Without an accurate data system in and across states, no one knows how many specialists are being trained, how many training programs are operational, or the professional disciplines that are involved. Of concern is not only the preparation of special education teachers or early interventionists, but also that of school psychologists, speech pathologists, behavior analysts, occupational and physical therapists, and