Special education needs, usually abbreviated as SEN, is a term used to describe children who find learning difficult than most of the learners of the same age (Halliwell, 2012). The children placed under the SEN category are diverse. Most of them require extra help from the instructors in the subjects they find difficulty understanding to allow them to achieve their potential. One of these groups of children with SEN are children with autism. It is is a developmental disorder that affects both communication and behaviour. It is characterised by communication difficulties, the difficulty of interaction with other individuals, limited interests and recurring behaviour pattern, and symptoms that impairs with a person's capability to function properly in many areas of life such as school (National Institute of Mental Health, 2018).
Children with ASD need special education needs, which can only be provided by teachers who have undergone specialised training required to equip them with requisite knowledge and skills required to teach these children. Teachers who help children with ASD on a day-to-day basis are known as special education teachers or special educators (Tiwari & John, 2017). There are various reasons why special educational needs teachers are required to keep themselves abreast with expertise in handling children with ASD throughout their career. First, children with autism have unique learning characteristics that are distinct from those of normal children and children with other disabilities (Tiwari & John, 2017). Because of this, special education teachers need to keep themselves updated on their knowledge of identification and management of autistic children. Failure to know the characteristics of these children and their learning challenges puts the teachers in a difficult situation because such teachers will not be able to address ASD students' learning needs adequately.
Secondly, Dahle (2003) noted that teachers' knowledge of practice is an essential factor in successful inclusion of ASD children in mainstream learning. Consequently, Dahle (2003) recommended that teachers who have learners with ASD in their classes need to be trained in both instructional strategies and interventions for students with ASD. This is because ASDs are complex developmental disorders which present themselves in various ways and thus have many strategies for appropriately handling. Therefore, teachers should undergo continuous training to equip themselves with current knowledge and skills needed form successful inclusion and teaching of ASD children. Teachers who are not trained on ASD will find it difficult to recognise that behavioural and learning problems displayed by autistic children. Additionally, such teachers will not have appropriate instructional strategies and interventions needed to maximise learning in ASD students.
Another key reason why special educators need continued training in handling of ASD children is to allow them to cultivate a positive attitude towards the children as well as their education (Rodriguez, Saldana, & Moreno, 2012). Teachers with positive attitudes towards children with ASD have been found to be successful in educating children with ASD. On the contrary, teachers who have not undergone training in the teaching of ASD children have negative attitudes towards these children and their education. For instance, in a study conducted by Showalter-Barnes (2008) to examine the regular teachers' opinions towards inclusion for students with ASD and to examine the socio-demographic attributes that affected instructors' attitudes regarding inclusion for ASD students, the researcher established that teachers with fewer hours of training in ASD had less favourable attitude toward integration. More specifically, data analysis showed that teachers with 6 or more hours of training in ASD inclusion had a more favourable attitude towards ASD inclusion than their counterparts with less than 6 hours of training. This implies that training is beneficial in ensuring that teachers change their attitudes towards ASD children and their learning.
It is also essential to note that apart from positively influencing teacher attitude towards ASD children, training of teachers on ASD is also positively associated with academic performance. According to Cassady (2011), teachers' attitudes towards ASD students' inclusion has an impact on the students' performance and academic success. More specifically, negative attitudes towards inclusion negatively affect academic performance through decreased individualised lessons. Additionally, teachers who hold negative views on ASD students have little confidence in implementing individualised education plans. Cassady (2011) further reported that when general education teachers ha unfavourable attitudes toward inclusion and are reluctant to have ASD students in their classrooms, they are less likely to provide the necessary support materials needed to create a conducive learning environment for ASD learners. Because of this, teachers should be continuously trained on the need, the importance, as well as the strategies for ASD inclusion in their daily practice.
Another reason why teachers need to undergo specialised training in handling of ASD children is that the training imparts them with many strategies for academic success of these children. For instance, the training equips the teachers with various instructional techniques. One of these techniques include modifications to assignments. It has been reported that ASD children do not like to be given long assignments. Through training, teachers learn to shorten assignments and to divide the assignments into manageable parts with the aim of increasing students' motivation to complete the tasks (Segall, 2008). Another instructional strategy is that learning in children with ASD can be increased through the use of visual information and support materials. This is because most learners with ASD learn best when the content is presented visually. Consequently, Segall (2008) recommended for the use of computers and visual learning aids in classrooms to support ASD children learning. In a case where the ASD learner has verbal difficulty, the use of sign language is helpful in improving learning (Dahle, 2003). In cases where a teacher is not trained to work with ASD children, the potential of the students will not be fully realised because the teachers do not know how best to teach such students. That is why training of teachers in ASD is necessary for realising students' full academic potential.
The challenges experienced by teachers who are not trained in intervention strategies for ASD children was reported in Finch, Watson, and MacGregor (2013) study. In this study, Finch et al. (2013) sought to gather information on experiences or regular teachers regarding inclusion practices for children with ASD. The authors used a survey to assess the gap between current training practices and the needs of regular teachers. Three research questions guided the study. The first addressed the pre-service preparation experiences of regular education teachers in the inclusion of ASD students. The second research question asked the teachers to describe their professional development experiences in instructional strategies and collaboration regarding integration of ASD students. The last examined self-efficacy levels of regular teachers in teaching ASD students.
Finch et al. (2013) found out that regular educators lack practical and useful knowledge on ASD (Finch et al., 2013). Additionally, the number of credit hours received by regular teachers in their pre-service preparation was found to be inadequate in preparing them to handle ASD students. Moreover, general education teachers were found to lack sufficient knowledge on their own to teach learners with ASD without seeking support from specialised teachers. Lastly, general education teachers were found to have low self-efficacy and little confidence in teaching ASD students (Finch et al., 2013). These findings show that without ASD training, regular teachers cannot be in a position to handle the challenges of teaching ASD children. Additionally, untrained teachers cannot fully exploit the potential of ASD learners.
Furthermore, the anxiety and increased apprehension that characterises teachers who have not undergone training in handling of ASD students have been found to negatively their self-efficacy as well as the academic performance of their students. The apprehension may be due to lack of experience in teaching ASD children or their scepticism of ASD students' inclusion in their classrooms. According to Ross-Hill (2009), failure to provide frequent and appropriate ASD training to educators leads to increased strain, stress, and tension for both the educators and the learners in inclusive classrooms. Because of this, there is need to provide educators with training that equips them with knowledge and skills required to enhance implementation of ASD inclusion as well as to make such inclusion benefit the ASD students. Such teachers will have high self-efficacy in handling ASD students and thus will ensure that the students achieve their full academic potential.
It is also important to note that educators should be trained in how to handle the ASD children best because such training enables them to understand the behavioural challenges faced by ASD learners in a classroom setting (Sails Group, 2016). Students with ASD may have difficulties in verbal fluency and in also be easily distracted. Additionally, these students may show deficits in social cues and may not respond to classroom tasks and assignments. Consequently, school life may prove quite challenging for ASD students. This is a significant problem if the educators are not equipped with knowledge and skills needed to work with the ASD students. Because of this, ASD training is helpful because it enables the teachers to address the learning problems brought by the learners to their classrooms. This allows the ASD students to compete favourably with their regular counterparts. On the contrary, teachers who are not trained in the handling of ASD children do not understand the learning difficulties faced by ASD learners in a classroom and how these difficulties should be addressed. Because of this, the untrained teachers are incapable of maximising the potential of their ASD students. Consequently, priority should be made to equip all teachers with relevant training to enable them to learn the instructional styles appropriate for ASD children.
In conclusion, past studies have shown that ASD teacher training is useful in realizing the maximum potential of ASD students. This is because such trainings enable the teachers to be updated on ways of identifying and managing of autistic children; to use appropriate instructional strategies and interventions for ASD children; to cultivate a positive attitude towards the children as well as their education; and to alleviate anxiety and increased apprehension that characterises teachers who are not trained in handling of ASD students.
Cassady, J. (2011). Teachers' attitudes toward the inclusion of students with autism and emotional behavioral disorder. Electronic Journal for Inclusive Education, 2(7).
Dahle, K. B. (2003). Services to include young children with autism in the general classroom. Early Childhood Education Journal, 31(1), 65-70.
Finch, K., Watson, R., & MacGregor, C. (2013). Teacher needs for educating children with autism spectrum disorders in the general education classroom. Journal of Special Education Apprenticeship, 2(2).
Halliwell, M. (2012). Supporting children with special educational needs: A...
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