Ready, set, learn: guide for autism and starting school

Schooling for children with autism should not be overwhelming, but does require considered planning and careful processes.

A book providing educational solutions for children with autism shines a positive light on the path ahead facing both parents and educators for World Autism Awareness Day on Monday April 2.

Flinders University Psychology Professor Robyn Young says the aim of the book Ready, Set, Learn! Helping Your Child With Autism Prepare To Start School (written by Dr Anna Moffat and Robyn Young, published by the Australian Council for Educational Research) is to present a comprehensive support manual of ideas, activities and suggestions, highlighting the need for flexibility at home and in the classroom.

“We’ve provided a tool that is accessible for both parents and professionals,” says Professor Young, from the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work.

“Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often require additional support to ensure they have the necessary social, academic and emotional skills to enable a smooth transition to school life. We’re covered this in the broadest possible way.”

The book includes a series of tips for both parents and teaching practitioners to identify the skills a child with autism requires to succeed and flourish in a school environment.

“It looks at what the child needs,” says Professor Young. “This can be identifying how a classroom can be structured to minimise stress, so that the child doesn’t become overwhelmed and that their learning can be structured effectively.”

The book explains how to nurture necessary school skills at home and in early education settings, with carefully explained levels of how to read behaviours in children with ASD, and detailed steps of what actions to take and how best to proceed through many situations.

The cover of the new book, Ready, Set, Learn! Helping your child with autism prepare to start school (ACER, 2017).

The program outlined in the book was piloted by Inclusive Directions, an Adelaide-based organisation that supports children and families living with ASD.

The trials at its St Marys and Salisbury facilities found that the book’s 200 pages of tips and step-by-step processes worked effectively.

Flinders University researcher Dr Moffat (now UniSA) and Professor Young developed the School Readiness Program at the Flinders Inclusive Directions Therapy House as an adjunct to the Structured Program for Early Childhood Therapists.

The children who undertook the program had better outcomes than their peers who had not received this level of support, Professor Young says.

“It’s of great benefit that this is not just a theoretical set of ideas and concepts, but is instead a tested manual of how to proceed and get good results,” she says.

Professor Young’s interest in autism began while studying savants as part of her PhD in Savant Syndrome. This work became the subject of an ABC documentary titled Uncommon Genius.

She went on to develop a screening tool for Autistic Disorder suitable for use in children as young as 12 months of age.

This tool, known as the Autism Detection in Early Childhood (ADEC; ACER, 2007), clearly operationalises early behaviours indicative of autism, and she also helped Flinders University colleagues develop an intervention program called SPECTRA in 2009.

The theme of the 2018 World Autism Awareness Day observance is ‘Empowering Women and Girls with Autism’.

* Ready, Set, Learn: Helping Your Child With Autism Prepare To Start School, by Dr Anna Moffat and Robyn Young, is available for $41.95 from the ACER website – www.shop.acer.edu.au

Professor Young and fellow Psychology Professor Neil Brewer are continuing research into Autism Disorder Spectrum and vulnerability to be drawn into crime.
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