More than half of professionals who work with autistic children have little or no appropriate training to cope with the demands of the job, according to research.
A study from the University of Strathclyde found that 34 per cent of teachers, health and social workers, and volunteers, admitted they had had little training. A fifth had none at all.
This meant that, in about a third of schools, inclusion was not working, the report said. An estimated six in every 1,000 children is thought to be on the autistic spectrum.
Professor Aline-Wendy Dunlop and Dr Tommy MacKay, of the university's National Centre for Autism Studies (NCAS), who carried out the survey of 1,500 practitioners working across Scotland, called for the creation of a national training framework to meet the needs of people working with children who have autism.
This framework would provide "a scaffold to support individuals and services to find pathways through training".
The paper was presented to delegates at the Inclusive and Supportive Education Congress, at the Glasgow university last month. It said better initial teacher training was needed to raise awareness of autism and aid early intervention, coupled with long-term professional courses to allow the development of good practice.
The authors found that the training profile of most professionals working in the field was a level lower than was needed in their day-to-day work.
Most practitioners, notably teachers in mainstream schools, admitted they had had no pre-service training at all, and even where in-service training was provided, it was usually general or introductory.
A National Autistic Society report in 2002 found that only 12 per cent of Scottish teachers had received any autism training, and the majority had only between one and four hours. Furthermore, 40 per cent of schools with pupils with autism had no teachers with autism-specific training.
"There is frequently no training when awareness raising is required, only awareness raising when training should be at general levels, and only general training when specialist training is required," the Strathclyde study found.
It went on: "The survey has highlighted major gaps in training at every level and across every sector. The personnel whose level of training is most inadequate for their role are those who work with autism in generic contexts, such as teachers in mainstream schools.
"With the increasing move towards inclusion... people with autism in these settings will increase. There are therefore very significant training issues for practitioners in this group."
A survey of 119 parents carried out as part of the research found that only a few believed that professionals working with their children had high levels of training in autistic spectrum disorders.
Those they valued had a good understanding of the condition, but also saw every child as having individual needs.
* The teaching of children with autism will be discussed at a conference organised by the National Autistic Society this month (see Diary, page 12).
* The parents' group, PACE, has published a guide for people campaigning for greater awareness and better provision for those with autism. Constructive Campaigning for Autism Services: The PACE Parents'
Handbook is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
* Dunlop and MacKay's report, The Role of Professional Training in the Effective Provision for Children and Adults with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, is available from email@example.com.