Toddlers with Autism are capable of learning important life-skills in mainstream classrooms through early intervention practises, a breakthrough research at La Trobe University, Australia has revealed. The research highlighted that educators can effectively integrate and teach autistic children in the mainstream classrooms, alongside their non-autistic peers.
The research was conducted by a team of professionals and researchers from the La Trobe University. For the study, researchers studied 44 children aged between 15 and 32 month for one year. Half of the subjects were placed in specialised classrooms that included autistic children, while the other half were placed in mainstream care.
The specialised playrooms, set up at the Victorian Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Center (ASELCC), included autistic children only, while mainstream playrooms – set up at La Trobe University Community Children’s Centre and Gowrie Victoria – included mostly children without autism.
Both groups were administered under the Group-Early Start Denver Model (G-ESDM) – an intervention developed and evaluated by the Victorian ASELCC team. Each child’s personalised learning goals were targeted within natural routines and activities across the childcare day. Examples of such targeting included staff helping a child develop interest in what peers were doing, helping a child practice communication techniques like asking for food and independence skills waiting for one’s turn and using a spoon.
The researchers said that such specialised intervention could be easily delivered in mainstream childcare. Over the year, researchers found that children’s social interaction, imitation, language and independence skills improved on average, with gains in both settings coming out to be quite similar.
Even children with autism showed remarkable improvements in verbal cognition, imitation, social interaction skills, vocal skills and adaptive behaviours in the mainstream childcare settings.
The study found affordable and accessible local childcare settings as a viable option for capacity-building of autistic children through evidence-based intervention. Autistic children face issues while communicating with others and lack independence skills, something that could be catered through with early intervention practices such as targeting their developmental needs, the researcher opined. The study further recommended a minimum of 15-25 hours per week early-intervention programme for supporting communication and developing independent skills in autistic children. The evidence of the research also highlighted that mainstream settings had no negative impact on the learning of non-autistic children.
One of the researchers, Dr Kristelle Hudry, said the findings asserted autistic pre-schoolers could be taught in mainstream early childhood settings. “We found that the overall quality of the learning and teaching environment in the mainstream playrooms was exceptionally high and graded equally when compared to specialised playrooms.”
The other researcher, Dr Cathy Bent, said it was extremely pertinent for children with disabilities to learn in the regular educational settings with their peers and friends. “This practise can also help to prevent discrimination and negative social perception towards people on the spectrum, as it gives children without a disability the chance to become more accepting of diversity from an early age”.
The research can assist in tackling problems faced by autistic children and their families worldwide and can assist in providing them with quality support care programmes in their local communities, as well as the mainstream childcare settings. According to an estimate 1 out of 59 children suffer from autism spectrum disorder (ASD) across the globe.