Their behaviour can be bewildering and is often misunderstood - they can be labelled disruptive and their parents blamed for what's seen as bad behaviour.
Early intervention is key for children with autism and more training is needed to help teachers understand their behaviour, according to Bernhard Menzinger, an education co-ordinator at Camphill Rudolf Steiner Schools in Aberdeen.
Mr Menzinger has more than 25 years' experience working with people with autism and teaching at Camphill, where he is an education co-ordinator. He has an MSc in autism and a qualification in curative education.
He is working in partnership with colleague Dorothy Miles, a director of Target Training Ltd (a Grampian SVQ-accredited centre), delivering nationally-recognised certificates for people working with autism. "Dorothy and I meet others who have worked with people with autism for six, seven or eight years and have never had a day's training," says Mr Menzinger. "That's not their fault - they are eager to have training.
"They are good, caring people, but they were never given the opportunity to learn about autism. So they come to our one-day course and by the end they say: `Now I know why he acts like this.' But why did they have to wait eight years?"
Mr Menzinger knows that's usually down to money. But he believes their one-day course, costing Pounds 600 for up to 20 teachers, represents good value. It also provides invaluable help for those supporting children with very complex needs. "Often it is said that people with autism are like this and that and this and that. No, they are not," he says. "They are all very different. There's one thing they all have in common and that's a very high level of anxiety. And they will have social difficulties interacting with other people.
"They will have difficulties with imaginative thinking. Many people who have autism are very literal in their understanding and perception of the world. So you might say to somebody `Can you pass the salt?' And the person might say `Yes' and do nothing because he or she can do it but you didn't say you wanted it right now. So understanding can be very, very, very literal. There may be difficulties in reading body language and facial expressions. But it doesn't mean they don't have imagination - there are many who write poetry, who paint, who draw.
Mrs Miles has more than 30 years' experience in the care sector, is a qualified assessor and internal and external verifier for the Scottish Qualifications Authority. She's also a member of the board at Camphill.
"It can be difficult for you and me to empathise with someone with autism, because they look perfectly so-called `normal' and yet they are doing strange things. So the general public as a whole has difficulty empathising with someone with autism," she says.
"I think at least one teacher in every school should be trained in autism and then at least they could pass on that information if somebody comes into the school who might be within the spectrum."
Mrs Miles teaches about health and safety and human rights legislation on the courses, which were introduced by the SQA to train professionals involved in helping people with autism.
There are two professional development awards taught over three-day courses. Level 3 is for those supporting individuals with autistic spectrum disorders and Level 4 is for those managing the support. Camphill is one of only three Scottish centres providing the Level 3 course, and the Level 4 manager's course is the only one of its kind in the UK. There is also a one-day course. All courses can be provided at any location or at Camphill, Aberdeen.
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