Sunday, July 22, 2007

Autism and Education - the New Brunswick Model

Autism presents issues across the lifespan of an autistic person and those who care for, or about, that person. Early intervention has been demonstrated to be critically important in helping the development of an autistic child. But development and education do not end at age 5 or 6 or whenever the child enters the school system.

In schools across North America from Ontario, where the government, after dragging its feet has now decreed that all districts will have ABA trained people by next fall, whatever that promise means, to Virginia to California, educators are struggling to come to grips with the increasing numbers of students with autism disorders.

Many autistic children require a dedicated aide to work with him or her, whether it is in a mainstream classroom, or whether it is in a quieter location more suitable for many environmentally sensitive autistic children. If the autistic child's experience is going to be a real learning experience and not just an exercise in frustration for all involved it is absolutely necessary that the aide receive proper autism intervention training to allow the aide to properly assist the child to learn. The program should be written by a resource teacher or mentor with the necessary training in evidence based interventions for autism. The mentor should also monitor the delivery of the intervention assistance by the aide.

That is essentially the model that is being developed in New Brunswick Canada albeit not without resistance from some vested interests. Here the University of New Brunswick College of Extended Learning has developed an Autism Training Program, a program of quality and integrity, which has trained preschool autism support workers for several years. Some of those ASW's have drifted into the school system to fill an overwhelming demand for their services to work with autistic school children. One year of teachers' aides and resource teachers have completed training and another year is scheduled to commence in October 2007. After that, New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham has promised to train another three classes of aides and resource teachers in succession.

The UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program was developed from the outset with input from the Autism Society of New Brunswick and its parent members. That is an important element in the trust that parents place in the UNB-CEL program and in the quality and integrity that the training assures. The instructors are knowledgeable educators. The standards for admission and graduation must be met; criteria which have caused some dissent by senior Education Department decision makers and by union representatives who prefer automatic entry and no testing requirements for all current Teachers Aides. But the UNB-CEL has maintained its commitment to the quality and integrity of its Autism Intervention Training program and New Brunswick's autistic students will be the beneficiaries of hat commitment.

As jurisdictions across North America scramble to find an education model that can be delivered to all autistic students and not just to the children of wealthier families the New Brunswick model is one worth considering and the UNB-CEL commitment to quality and integrity is worth emulating. Hopefully the forces of resistance and regression, the vested interests who fear displacement or loss of personal opportunity will not derail the New Brunswick model at home where it began.


Maddy said...

Whilst I'm all for 'training' of staff [and qualifications] I can't help think of a couple of aides that I know quite well who don't have a piece of paper to their name, but have that certain indefinable chemistry - I'd hate to lose them.
Best wishes

Unknown said...

Yes, there are always exceptions to any general principle or rule.

But without the training you have no way of knowing when a new aide starts working with a child whether the aide will have that "certain indefinable chemistry" or will be nothing more than a baby sitter - or worse.

There are probably some very capable lawyers, doctors and engineers who lack formal training and education in those fields as well but we don't give them the chance to prove themselves without the appropriate degree and professional accreditation.