Website teaches schools, parents about autism

A new website will give teachers information and guidance to understand, help and deal with students on the autism spectrum.

A new website is providing a free one-stop shop for teachers and parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), offering guidance about how best to manage the learning disability in schools.

The website, called Amaze Online Classroom, is the product of a joint initiative by Amaze, the peak body for ASD in Victoria, and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. It was developed with feedback from a committee comprising specialist staff in psychology, education, counselling and service delivery, ensuring a comprehensive and specialised tool.

Project Manager at Amaze, Kate Day, said the website was primarily intended “for teachers in primary, secondary and specialist settings”, and was aimed at “supporting educators to further develop their knowledge of ASD and provide them with strategies and suggestions for supporting these students at school.”

It addresses many common questions about autism and is divided into three main sections: About Autism Spectrum Disorder, Teaching and Learning, and Social Skills and Behaviour. The site also features a short introduction to ASD by pre-eminent psychologist and expert on Asperger syndrome, Dr Tony Attwood.

Ms Day said each section had been developed to cover the issues that can arise when teaching students who are on the spectrum, including communication, behaviour, sensory sensitivities, organisational skills and learning plans.

The Department funded the website’s development through the More Support for Students with Disabilities program, a national partnership between the Commonwealth and Victorian governments aimed at better enabling state schools to support the education of students with disabilities.

Amaze chief executive Fiona Sharkie said she hoped the website would assist teachers as they navigate the unique challenges presented by students with special needs.

“Teaching is a difficult job. The more strategies teaching staff have at their fingertips to help them understand and support individuals with ASD, the better it is for everyone – the teachers, the students with ASD and the whole school community,” she said.

Amaze said feedback from teachers had been positive.

Classroom teacher Michelle Nolan, who has been teaching for six years, works at Biralee Primary School in Doncaster and said that while Biralee is a mainstream school, there is at least one child on the autism spectrum in each classroom.

“ASD is particularly difficult at times because every child is different,” she said, “so the advice you’re given for one child might not work for others.”

Although teachers received “quite extensive” training to work with children on the spectrum, she said the website was a useful addition to a teacher’s toolbox.

“There is an abundance of information and resources available [on the website] but it is not at all overwhelming.

“[It] is presented using language that is easy to understand, making it extremely user friendly, and I was able to find what I was looking for quickly and directly.”

She explained that teachers often found that students with ASD had “particular anxieties or particular quirks” that needed to be addressed, and the website provided reliable strategies to help in these instances.

Ms Nolan said teachers enjoyed working with students with ASD, and the diversity that they brought to the school environment.

“I [referred] my colleagues to the site to support them when working with students with ASD,” she said, “they were excited to have this new resource [available].”

While the resource is primarily intended for use by schools and teachers, Ms Sharkie hopes that it will also give parents and carers the knowledge and confidence to partner with schools on the best way to meet their child’s needs.

The Amaze Online Classroom is one of many partnership projects between the Department and Amaze.

“The Victorian government has an ongoing professional partnership with Amaze, and provides Amaze with support and funding to develop a range of resources and support for schools and their communities,” a Department spokesman said.

The relationship with the Department has allowed Amaze to develop several initiatives and new resources.

“ASD is a complex condition, and after looking at the Online Classroom, teachers will be well-equipped to recognise characteristics of ASD in their students,” Ms Sharkie said.

“The content will help them to be the best teacher they can be, and to bring out the best in these students,” she said.

Source: The Age, Danielle Kutchel

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