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Autism: For Young Students, Teacher Training matters

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Kindergarten through second-grade students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) whose teachers received special training did better than their peers in communicating and getting along, found researchers at Emory and Florida State universities.

“They were initiating more, participating more, having back-and-forth conversations more, and responding to their teachers and peers more frequently,” says Lindee Morgan, assistant professor of pediatrics and co-director of educational science and research at the Marcus Autism Center. The three-year, 60-school study measured the effectiveness of a curriculum designed specifically for teachers of students with autism spectrum disorder. The team reported its results in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. “This study is one of only a few demonstrating the effacacy of a treatment for school-age children,” says co-principal investigator Amy Wetherby, of FSU’s Autism Institute. “And the most impressive part is it was conducted in public school classrooms with a good mix of general and special education teachers.

”There is a pressing need to change the landscape of education for school-age students with ASD, the researchers say. “General education teachers in most states aren’t required to have autism training, and yet they find themselves teaching kids with autism because that’s the law,” says Morgan. “These days, more than 70 percent of kids on the spectrum have no intellectual disabilities. Therefore, schools are moving toward modifying and adapting the mainstream classroom. This can be helpful not only for kids with autism but for all students.”

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