A Growing Challenge for Our Society
The rate of Autism in Oregon and across the country has increased dramatically over the past few decades. What used to affect only 1 in 10,000 children now affects 1 in 45.
The educational needs of children with Autism are unique because each child’s behaviors and capabilities are unique. Children with Autism demonstrate a variety of symptoms, including behavioral, physical, social, and learning difficulties. Roughly 1/3 of children with Autism are unable to speak; most have social cognition challenges, gross and/or fine motor issues, and sensory sensitivities.
Teacher training requires specialization, focus, and much lower student-teacher ratios. In addition to typical academics, education needs include speech, social, and life skills.
Given Autism’s Growing Prevalence and Unique Educational Needs, Public Schools have been Challenged to Keep Up
Public education has been unable to keep up with Autism’s increase — budget-strapped schools are generally unable to meet the needs of most children with Autism, leaving parents on their own to patch together a program to support their child.
As a result, privately funded schools are cropping up nationwide. Founded in 2009, Victory Academy is Oregon’s only year-round, accredited school for Autism. What started as a small class of eight in 2009 has expanded to 38 students enrolled for Fall 2013. The school is now at capacity, and must turn away students until a new location is built.
The Approach to Teaching Children with Autism is Unique
Children with Autism are very capable of learning, but the approach to teaching must be much more personalized than what mainstream, public schools can offer:
- Much lower student-teacher ratios
- Frequent one-on-one sessions
- Extensive use of visual aids and technologies
- Requires higher rates of repetition to master a topic or skill
- Effective teachers require highly specialized training
- Patient, energetic, expressive, compassionate, and positive teachers are a must
- Curriculum must be mindful of the children’s emotional, social, verbal, and physical challenges
- Sensory issues and the learning environment must also be taken into account to optimize learning (loud noises, bright lights, dust, toxins, etc.)