BY GRAHAM O’DWYER
On Nov. 7, the Isabelle Farrington College of Education hosted a colloquium at Sacred Heart’s Oakview campus discussing how to accommodate students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in mainstream classrooms.
The presentation was sponsored by the Education and Speech-Language Pathology departments, and introduced a range of strategies for enhancing both inclusion and academic success of these students.
“There is no clear-cut understanding of what helps a child with autism,” said Eugene McDonagh, senior History major. “Everyone learns differently, and autism is another part of this that we have to consider.”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Autism Spectrum Disorder refers to “a wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of disability.”
People with ASD sometimes have social problems, repetitive behaviors, and limited interests or favorable activities.
Symptoms are typically recognized in the first two years of life, and hurt the individual’s ability to function socially at school, work, or other areas of life.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 68 children have been identified with some form of ASD. While some are mildly impaired by their symptoms, others are severely disabled.
Dr. Rhea Paul, speaker at the colloquium and founding director of Sacred Heart’s Speech-Language Pathology department, discussed the differences in the learning environments of students with ASD and those without.
“[Students with ASD] don’t learn social concepts quickly. They need some sort of individualization in terms of education. Sometimes they struggle to learn in groups,” said Paul. “The students tend to benefit more from a very structured learning environment.”
According to Paul, students with ASD ten to face social obstacles and lack the skills to interact with others in a way most would consider traditional. This is why exposing them to more typical social situations at an acceptable pace can be greatly beneficial.
“Peer mediation is important to them as well. Even though they don’t usually have the skills to interact well with others, most love to have those social interactions,” said Paul.
Social interactions do not come easily to those with ASD. According to Paul, this is why incorporating students with ASD into mainstream classrooms is so important.
“With environmental, behavioral, instructional, and social supports, we can help these students become a part of mainstream classrooms as well as create more independent students,” she said.
“I learned a lot from this presentation,” said junior Education major Rosanna Furano. “I feel better equipped going into my field because of opportunities like this, to get a broader look into the way to teach children of all kinds, including those with autism.”