Principals lack training to deal with autism


Most primary school principals dealing with autistic children have received no training in the condition, according to a survey.

The survey of 210 principals by the Irish Primary Principals' Network (IPPN) found that over 70 per cent of principals had to skip the question on training in autism because they, or their staff, had received none.

Pat Goff of the IPPN said the lack of support offered to schools and the increased workload for principals were responsible for the fact that half the principals surveyed who had set up classes for autistic children say they will not do so again.

The classes involve the children receiving one-to-one attention before being slowly integrated into mainstream education.

The principals found that 60 to 70 per cent of their time was dedicated to the set-up period. A lack of support from the health boards in providing necessary back-up services was also identified as a cause for concern.

"For a lot of principals you are effectively on your own when you set up an autism class. It becomes an uphill battle to access the services that should be available to children. Almost two-thirds of your time could be given to the autism unit at the expense of the rest of the school which then suffers," said Mr Goff.

In a recent presentation to the Department of Education, the IPPN recommended a co-ordinated approach that could be implemented by all schools. It focuses on six key areas.

Accommodation - permanent classroom, time-out room, multi-sensory room, multi-purpose room and outdoor play areas are needed.

Staffing - permanent teaching positions with a pupil-teacher ratio of 4:1; a home-school community liaison teacher; and one-to-one attention from a special needs assistant.

Resources - an annual budget for outside consultants and educational resources.

Supports - regular psychological service; a speech and language therapist; occupational therapist; access to play and music therapists, interdisciplinary team to support each school.

Advice centre - the provision of support; a central bank of resources; schools to ascertain training needs of teachers and provision of training courses.

Administration - all schools with special units to have an administrative principal; all new units to have a lead-in period where staff receive some training prior to pupils' arrival.