Andrew Mercer outlines a timely project to introduce a designated adult for autism into mainstream schools
Knowledge and understanding about autism have increased markedly in both medical and education circles in recent years. Our ability to recognise signs of autism has improved, and diagnoses have become more focussed as they have increasingly included input from multi-disciplinary professional teams. Improvements in diagnosis also seem to have brought about an increase in the number of those diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). Indeed, during the four years that I worked as an advisory teacher for autism, I saw my caseload grow from just 80 diagnosed cases to almost 250.
Despite continued efforts by schools to adapt their learning environments for children with ASD, it is increasingly difficult for educational settings to manage. Students who meet the criteria for special schools are often not given these placements due to a lack of available places. Consequently, mainstream schools have to meet this challenge by increasing their knowledge and skill base, adjusting their special needs provision maps to suit the increasing demand.
In 2009, the Autism Support Service in Birmingham offered training to my Masters Degree cohort for a role called “designated adult for autism”, in which one staff member in a school takes a lead on issues relating to students with ASD. With the pressures of increasing caseloads, I recognised that the amount of time available for support interventions for ASD in Plymouth, such as group work for social and communication skills and one-to-one support, was becoming severely limited. The new designated adult scheme seemed to be an obvious and practical solution to some of these problems. I decided to make it the focus of my dissertation for my Masters in Special Education (Autism).
To read the complete story on the Special Educational Needs website, click here.