PIONEERING INITIATIVE IN AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER EDUCATION IN THE NORTHWEST

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An innovative series of training courses on Autism Spectrum Disorder delivered recently in the Northwest has met with widespread positive response. The courses were organised by the Training and Education in ASD Group, a joint initiative between St Angela’s College, Sligo, the Health Services Executive, Northwest, Cregg House Services and parent’s representatives. Courses were delivered both in Sligo and Donegal, were multidisciplinary in approach and aimed at those working professionally in the field, and at parents.

Over 130 people attended, coming from a range of backgrounds including teaching, the medical profession and social care, as well as parents of children with the disorder. The courses drew on the wideranging professional expertise available in the sponsoring organisations. St Angela’s College has spearheaded the development of postgraduate specialisation in special educational needs in the region, and also offers a nursing specialisation in intellectual disability, as well as professional accreditation for special needs assistants working directly in schools.

The increasing prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder means that there is a growing need for ASD-specific education among teachers, carers and healthcare workers, as well as family members. The rights of those with ASD are also increasingly recognised, as is the need for care programmes that are person-centred and informed by current research. The courses were planned and organised as part of a response to the recommendations of the Task Force on Autism which emphasised the need for a coordinated approach by statutory bodies. It also recommended that the perspectives of parents, and of voluntary and support organisations, be recognised as a key feature of future policy formation, and emphasised the need for professional training.

Among those attending the Donegal course was a playgroup worker who had previously ‘had little or no information on autism’, but who felt ‘more confident to help and deal with a situation if it arises’ as a result of the three-day intensive training programme.

The Training and Education is ASD Strategy Group intends to further develop this provision of ASD-specific education in the region. Given the needs articulated during the pilot phase of the project, it hopes to be in a position to offer further such training courses, as well as developing a series of one-day workshops on specific issues in response to feedback from participants, in the near future.

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