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Teachers’ experience of support in

the mainstream education of pupils


with autism
Lisa Glashan, Gilbert MacKay and Ann Grieve ®
University of Strathclyde

Abstract
This article reports a study of support for pupils with autism in a Scottish education author-
ity. The pupils attend mainstream classes in primary schools but receive additional support
from an outreach service. The study aimed to understand the nature of outreach support
from a mainstream teacher’s point of view. The principal data of the project were interview
transcripts from a critical-case sample of five schools. The data were subjected to two lev-
els of analysis. First, they were grouped under five themes concerning teachers’ perceptions
of support: speech and language therapy; parents, special assistants, communications, and
the existing generic learning support team. Second, these five themes were reassembled as
a textural and structural analysis which identified areas which influenced teachers’ percep-
tion of their own competence and the support of others. Among these areas, other profes-
sionals’ experience of working with pupils who are autistic was valued highly as a source
of support.

Keywords: autism, inclusion, mainstream, support service

Introduction
Context of the study
This article reports a study of support for pupils with autistic spectrum disorders
(ASDs) and their teachers in a Scottish education authority (anonymized as
‘Riverside’). The pupils attend mainstream classes in primary schools, but they, and
their teachers and families, were identified as requiring additional support from an
outreach service, an extension of the provision of a school-based unit for children with
autism, which was on the point of being created at the time of the study. The aim of the
study was to understand, from a mainstream teacher’s point of view, the nature of the
support that the outreach service should provide.
Current educational policy in the UK is permeated by the rhetoric of ‘inclusive educa-
tion’. At national level, the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000 requires all
children to be educated in mainstream provision in all but exceptional circumstances.
At local level too, Riverside’s policy document on inclusive education and support for
learning is an expansion of national guidelines on inclusive practice, with a principal

Improving Schools © SAGE Publications


Volume 7 Number 1 March 2004 49–60
ISSN 1365-4802 DOI: 10.1177/1365480204042113
50 Improving Schools 7(1)

aim of achieving the ‘greatest possible self-reliance’ for children with special needs.
The authority plans what it calls an ‘integrated continuum of services’, depending on
the ‘child’s assessed needs’.
Many supporters of inclusive education acknowledge that inclusion is complex and
challenging, and not simply a question of school placement. The nature of autism
requires the addressing of specific complexity and challenges to ensure that children
are properly supported, whether in mainstream classes or in specialized provision. This
article is concerned with understanding the conditions that determine if support in
mainstream classes is adequate and appropriate in the experience of the class teachers
who provide it.
As in many UK education authorities, Riverside’s autism services have evolved in
response to the needs of families affected by autism. However, we are in a time when
there sometimes seems to be a conflict between demands for specialized attention to
autism and demands for increased mainstreaming of pupils with disabilities. There are
no statistics available at present for Scotland on the specialized support of pupils with
autism. However, a national survey of local education authorities (LEAs) in England
and Wales found that 30 per cent had some form of autism outreach or advisory
service, 24 per cent had developing or informal autism services and just under half had
no specialist services (Sheppard, 2000). Approximately 50 per cent of LEAs are now
providing a form of outreach, and many teams have published their experiences and
services (Barrat et al., 1997; Cumine et al., 1998; Elston, 1997; Hanner, 1998). Thus,
throughout the UK, education authorities are increasingly looking to an outreach model
of service provision, to support children and staff in mainstream. In that context, it is
important to understand the nature of support for mainstream teaching staff, if the out-
reach service is to be effective. This study attempted to understand ‘support’ from the
perspective of class teachers in particular. It was located in five primary schools, in all of
which there were one or more pupils with autistic difficulties so pronounced that the sup-
port of a visiting teacher from the council’s specialist school-based unit was necessary.

Procedure
The general approach to the study was phenomenological, centring on an under-
standing of participants’ perceptions. In this case, the phenomenon was support of
mainstream children with autism, as understood and experienced by their classroom
teachers. The study progressed through three stages: preparation; data-gathering and
the first level of analysis; and the second level of analysis.

Preparation
A group of key individuals in Riverside’s autism service (educational psychologist,
speech and language therapist and assistant head teacher in charge of the authority’s
base for pupils with autism) chose a sample of 10 schools to be considered in the study.
All schools were noted as likely to require assistance from Riverside’s autism outreach
service, which was on the point of becoming operational. The aim of selecting the
sample was to reflect the diverse demography of the authority and encompass all stages
between nursery and Primary 7, the final year of Scottish primary education. From the
initial sample, five volunteer schools were selected for the study.
• School 1: a village school that had one pupil with autism, in Primary 6.
Glashan et al.: Teachers’ experience of support 51

• School 2: a town school that had two pupils with autism, one in Primary 1 and one
in Primary 5.
• School 3: a rural school that had one pupil with autism, in Primary 2.
• School 4: a large new-town school that had one pupil with autism, in Primary 3.
• School 5: a nursery school that had one pre-school pupil with autism.
All six pupils in the study were described as having an autistic spectrum disorder, but
their presenting characteristics ranged from one extreme of the spectrum to the other.
For example, four were described as having the ASD of Asperger’s syndrome. In their
cases, this meant that they had trouble understanding and using figurative speech such
as metaphors and hyperbole; they had trouble with the social skills that make people
easy or difficult to accept as friends or companions; and they showed the characteris-
tic levels of difficulties in coordination and movement that are reported commonly
among children with ASDs. One of the four has unusual fears, which change from time
to time, and during the course of this study took the form of a phobic reaction to clouds,
which he associated with thunderstorms. By contrast to the four pupils with Asperger’s
syndrome, a fifth showed the characteristics of classic autism. He had severe intellec-
tual disabilities and, at age 4, used no spoken language and could understand little; he
seemed to depend on sensory stimulation (from touch, movement and visual displays)
for input of information from the world; he was prone to fits of screaming and
was violent towards his teachers (although not to other pupils). The sixth pupil was a
girl with a complex array of disabilities. She had severe learning and physical disa-
bilities, and the autistically typical dislike of change to her routines, stereotyped
behaviour (such as hand-flapping) and difficulty relating to other children and to adults.
The diversity of presenting characteristics across the group of six children exemplifies
the impossibility of having a one-size-fits-all structure for responding to pupils with
ASDs.
The preparation group and the principal researcher (LG) also identified critical areas
that, from their experience, would be useful themes to give structure to the open-ended
interviews that were to be the main means of gathering data from the schools. These
themes were as follows:
• types of support experienced;
• who was being supported;
• accessibility and frequency of support;
• usefulness of support;
• successful strategies.

Data-gathering and the first level of analysis


All five themes in the above list were explored with all participants in the study, but
they were not the sole focus of discussion at interviews: participants were encouraged
to digress from them to any extent that allowed them to explore their perceptions of
support. In each school, the key participant was a teacher with experience of being
supported in working with a pupil who had autism. In some instances, these partici-
pants were joined by other members of staff, including special assistants. The principal
researcher carried out all interviews. Each interviewee was given details of the five
structuring themes as a guide to the interview. Interviews lasted between 30 and 50
minutes, were tape-recorded and then transcribed in full. Transcripts were made of all
52 Improving Schools 7(1)

interviews, and returned to the participants for verification. All amendments suggested
by participants were made.
The revised transcripts were the data for the first and second levels of analysis. The
first analysis of data indicated concerns around a number of categories relating to the
effectiveness of support. Five categories evolved from the most frequently occurring,
or significant, phenomena discussed during interviews and are outlined in ‘Findings’,
below. The reliability of the categories was not tested statistically, because its depend-
ability was not required beyond the confines of the study. However, the principal
researcher discussed the categories, and their assignment to participants’ statements,
with two colleagues. A high measure of agreement was achieved, and all codings over
which there were degrees of disagreement were resolved by discussion easily.
These data were then examined in more detail for significant statements, a procedure
sometimes called ‘horizontalization’ (Creswell, 1998: 55). Statements from the written
transcriptions of the tapes were then organized into clusters of meaning, or essential
themes, using a cut-and-paste method. A series of subheadings emerged, which are
summarized in the ‘Findings’ below.
Two independent readers were used to verify the interpretations and conclusions of the
principal researcher. The first reader, who was a participant in the initial interviews,
agreed strongly with all findings. She drew particular attention to the complex staffing
arrangements often found in small rural schools, in which children may have three dif-
ferent teachers routinely, not including additional support staff. This reader found it
interesting that ‘other teachers felt as I did and schools basically had similar problems’.
The second reader was not one of the original interviewees but was in a similar
situation to that of the targeted teachers, in that she had experience of teaching children
with autism in mainstream classes. She could relate to most situations and, indeed, felt
reassured that the staff interviewed by this study had experienced similar challenges
and emotions to her own.

Second level of analysis


This phase of the study involved a re-reading of the transcripts in the light of the
categories and sub-categories that had arisen in the first stage of analysis. Statements
from the transcripts were formulated into meanings, and these meanings were clustered
into themes, which can be termed ‘textural’ and ‘structural’ descriptions (Marek, 1999;
Moustakas, 1994). A description was written for each of the five schools used for the
study. Such descriptions are what the study has found to be the essence of the phenom-
enon under investigation – support. That essence, together with a revisiting of the first
level of analysis, creates a context in which it is possible to generate conclusions about
the experience of support in Riverside authority, and to make recommendations about
its development.

Findings
First level of analysis
This stage of the project began with the transcription of conversations, which were then
checked and rechecked against the tapes, to make sure that an accurate record of the
conversations had been made. The transcripts were then examined and divided into
statements by ‘horizontalization’. These statements were then organized into clusters
Glashan et al.: Teachers’ experience of support 53

of meaning, or essential themes. Five clusters of meaning were evident:


• speech and language therapy;
• parents;
• special assistants;
• communication among members of the multiprofessional team;
• generic learning support service.
The full text of this study (Glashan, 2002) gives an extended account of each of the five
themes as they emerged in the lives of the schools. For the sake of convenience, these
accounts are summarized below in terms of the major points that they encompassed.

Speech and language therapy


• All schools had speech and language therapy (SLT) input.
• There was a combination of school- and clinic-based therapy.
• SLTs contributed to planning, formally and informally (cross-curricular contribu-
tions were helpful).
• SLTs collaborated with special needs assistants in most cases.
• Schools were confused about the role of SLT and how to access service.
• Schools relied on SLT for advice on communication and social skills.
• A clinic-based social group was successful for teaching skills of social interaction
and social understanding to the pupils with autism.

Parents
• There was a positive relationship between parents’ knowledge and involvement
and the success of placements for children.
• There was a positive relationship between parental knowledge and involvement
and teacher stress or vulnerability.
• Schools sometimes felt that parents had unrealistic expectations of their children
and of the schools.
• Parents and families required high levels of emotional support from schools.

Special assistants
• None of the primary school assistants had any formal training or experience of
autism before appointment.
• Teachers’ stress increased by having to direct an adult when they themselves were
working in the dark.
• Professional boundaries had to be made explicit.
• There was concern about the use of assistants within the time allocated to them.
• Assistants were a vital link among all services.

Communication among the multiprofessional team


• The core team consisted of a psychologist, a speech and language therapist, an
assistant, parents, promoted staff in school and Riverside’s specialized base for
children with autism.
• No schools directly contacted national voluntary organizations for advice and
information.
• Four out of five schools were not aware of any communication among services,
other than formal meetings that they had coordinated.
54 Improving Schools 7(1)

• The nursery school’s representative at multiprofessional meetings was the member


of staff who had most contact with the child.
• Some schools involved assistants in formal meetings.
• More feedback was required from psychologists, and more quickly.
• Lack of communication between management and teaching staff increased
feelings of vulnerability among the class teachers.
• There was confusion surrounding support available and how to access it.
• The diagnostic process could link to the provision of service more closely.
• Contact with other schools in similar situations was helpful.

Generic learning support service (for all pupils with support needs)
• Two schools felt that the generic learning support service was neither appropriate
nor adequate for pupils with autism.
• The nursery school used learning support consultatively.
• Support from the service was not adequate unless the learning support teacher
had experience of autism – they were no better qualified to advise than the class
teachers themselves.
• Generic learning support teachers were most helpful when researching informa-
tion that the class teachers did not have time to obtain for themselves.

Findings
Second level of analysis
The summarized themes of the first level of analysis invited a return to the interview
data for more in-depth probing. The aim of this return was to try to understand the
phenomenon of support more fully by processes such as ‘textural description’, which
attempts to describe what the participants experienced, and a ‘structural description’
of how they experienced the phenomenon of support. The outcome was a ‘textural–
structural description’ (Marek, 1999: 73), a set of five narratives that summarized
teachers’ different experiences of support in the five schools in which the study was
based. The five narratives appear in full in the principal researcher’s earlier document
(Glashan, 2002). For convenience, they are summarized here in terms of themes that
recurred consistently in the deeper interrogation of the data – issues concerning peers,
parents, multiprofessional teams and class teachers – and are discussed below in that
sequence.

Peers
The issue of peers related to two main issues of teachers’ need for support and guid-
ance: concern for other children and tolerance of peers. Both issues indicate how
important it may be to consider classroom dynamics when implementing policies
intended to promote educational and social inclusion.

Concerns for other children


All establishments had experienced concerns about the educational experience of the
other children, even the successful placements. Concerns ranged from the physical
safety of pupils, exposure to extreme behaviours, and distractions caused by behav-
iours, to teachers feeling they could not give other pupils the attention they needed
because of the input required for one child. One school had two children with disparate
Glashan et al.: Teachers’ experience of support 55

degrees of autism in a Primary 1 class: it was a problematic placement, even with addi-
tional classroom support. In one school, a pupil was said to be having nightmares
because of the behaviour of a classmate with autism. Such concerns can cause stress
for teachers, even when they have auxiliary support in the classroom.
Two schools referred to other children who would have benefited from additional input,
but this was not provided because of the input required for the child with autism.

Tolerance by peers
Teachers commented favourably on the acceptance of the children with autism by their
peers, even at nursery level. However, this acceptance did not occur in all cases: chil-
dren may have to learn their own boundaries before they can acknowledge differences.
For example, a Primary 1 class were said to take longer than expected to settle and to
learn class routines and procedures, because a child with autism was breaking rules and
expectations to which the rest had to conform. In that case, the child with autism was
removed from some situations to allow the teacher to establish clear boundaries, before
reintroducing him at his own pace.
The child with autism and a new peer group may experience significant difficulties
when an established peer group is changed without preparation, for example when
classes are regrouped. In the project, that situation occurred in the later stages of a
primary school: it has very clear implications for the support of teachers and pupils,
not only in the primary stages, but also in the transition from primary to secondary
education.

Parents
Parental involvement appears to have significantly affected the success of placements.
Coping with the expectations of parents is one of the most stressful elements of place-
ment for class teachers. Teaching staff attributed this friction to a mismatch between
parental perceptions and expectations, and the reality of a mainstream environment.

Conflicting expectations
It is not unreasonable that parents should want the best possible educational provision
for their child. However, it should be clear that specialized education and inclusion may
well have conflicting aims and structures. Three schools felt that parents wanted a
specialist provision in a non-specialist environment. Two of these schools had to man-
age parents quite firmly to maintain a balance. In the third school, communication and,
in turn, the placement broke down completely. In that school, parents had difficulty
recognizing the practicalities of the competing demands for specialist treatment in a
non-specialist setting. They equated ‘inclusion’ with Warnock’s (1978) ‘locational inte-
gration’ – the placement of all children in the same educational location but without
necessarily differentiating the curriculum and other structures to take account of
disparate educational needs. By contrast, inclusion, a term that often defies definition,
implies a commitment to accommodating the needs of the diversity of all the individ-
uals who form a community. We are likely to be left with something that is locational
integration, but is probably not education, if that commitment is not acknowledged
(MacKay, 2002).
No school in the study advocated the exclusion of children with autism or other
56 Improving Schools 7(1)

significant learning difficulties, but all asked for greater awareness of the inherent limi-
tations of the mainstream education system that cannot be altered, even by additional
funding or resources. For example, there are physical barriers to mainstreaming
because of class sizes, open plan buildings, overstimulating environments, and the
educational requirements of all children in a class. There are also social barriers to
mainstreaming, such as those imposed by government policy in the form of a curricu-
lar structure that is not appropriate for all children, because it was not designed for all
children (MacKay, 2001, 2002).
The two children with the more severe ASDs in this study are good illustrations of that
issue. In such a context, professionals and education authorities must make the practi-
calities of mainstream education clear to parents and should have the courage to
explore the practicalities of the relationship of mainstreaming to inclusion. Perhaps
mainstreaming is an essential component of educational inclusion, but this is not
necessarily so: an educational system can be inclusive in its thinking and still respond
to the diversity of individuals with a diversity of provision. Concern about whether or
not educational provision is inclusive seems meaningless if what is being offered to
children in either mainstream or specialized schools cannot be recognized as education.

Emotional support
Schools also found that parents and families required a level of support that they had
not anticipated. This support consisted mainly of an unprecedented number of meet-
ings, predominantly informal, to monitor progress, plan future progress and reassure.
In addition, the nursery school considered other members of the family by helping,
when necessary, to obtain respite care for its pupil’s siblings and emotional support for
parents. It would seem, therefore, that there is a place for giving parents emotional sup-
port, and that this role should be undertaken by some clearly identified local authority
professional, who is not necessarily a member of the school staff.

Multiprofessional teams
The notion of a multiprofessional team was problematic. There was no coordination of
services unless this had been initiated by the schools themselves. There also appeared
to be confusion regarding the roles of different professionals in a multidisciplinary
context. Coordinating several diaries to have a meeting with different professionals
once a year does not necessarily create a multiprofessional team.

Multiprofessional coordinator
In the most successful placements, a head teacher or deputy head had taken the role of
coordinator. They liaised with all services and in some cases made decisions about
the most effective use of resources. The head teacher, or a promoted member of staff
of the school, would appear to be an appropriate choice of coordinator. However, if the
coordinator has a limited knowledge of autism and related issues, valuable information
or resources may be lost.
The key members of the multiprofessional team were psychologist, speech and
language therapist, special assistant and parents; in most cases specialist support teams
in autism were also involved. Two schools deliberately limited the number of profes-
sionals involved.
Glashan et al.: Teachers’ experience of support 57

Educational psychologist
Although all contributions to the team should be equally valued, the role of the
educational psychologist seemed particularly significant in this study. The process of
diagnosis and referral to appropriate services was largely dependent on the psycholo-
gist. However, three out of five schools were concerned by the length of time it took
from raising concerns to receiving a report from the psychologist: the delay was over
two years in one case. In one area of Riverside, the study discovered that psychologists
had a policy of not working with children below a certain age. Additionally, all
children considered in the study had input from psychological services, but that input
appeared to be part of the process of diagnosis and placement, rather than direct
support for schools and families.
Throughout the study, the opinion was voiced that psychologists had an unrealistically
high workload, and that the number of psychologists seems to be decreasing. At the
same time, the number of children said to require psychological services is increasing,
particularly in mainstream schools. These findings raise questions about the extent to
which a coordinator of autism services is required. They also raise questions about the
number of psychologists required in an education authority, or perhaps the range of
duties that the psychologists elect to fulfil or are required to fulfil.

Speech and language therapist


All schools found SLT to be one of the most effective sources of support. Yet, main-
stream schools do not always understand the relationship between speech and language
therapy and children with autism, or that schools themselves can refer children without
previous referral to a psychologist. Speech and language therapists have specialist
knowledge about certain aspects of autism. They have assessment tools that allow them
to highlight and target specific elements of a child’s communication profile. They can
then suggest strategies, making the child’s difficulty with communication more man-
ageable for the class teacher. Clearly, there should be better awareness in mainstream
schools of the role of the therapists, and how they may contribute to children’s and
teachers’ support.
Two schools had participated in a social skills group run by speech and language
therapists. This pilot group was considered to be very successful by the schools,
parents and therapists themselves. Teachers reported a difference in the children’s
confidence and motivation to communicate while attending the group.
In the course of the social skills group, the therapists invited parents and staff to attend
a session, to observe the format of the group and encourage follow-up at home and in
school. This model of intervention appeared to be worth replicating.

Class teachers
All classroom teachers found that their experience of a child with autism was difficult
and that they took at least a year to feel they were coping with the situation. All areas
discussed in this project affect the class teachers; in this section, we will focus on their
perception of support received, professional preparation and development, special
assistants and the generic learning support service for all pupils with a need for
additional support.
58 Improving Schools 7(1)

Perception of support
Three of the five schools considered the placement to be successful but would wish for
more support if they were in the same position again. The nursery school would wish
for more assistance for the other children with needs for additional support, who had
been seen during preschool assessment but who were felt to lose out because of the
amount of support needed for the child with autism. The school that appears to have
experienced the most effective support from the outreach service would also want more
contact with Riverside’s specialized autism base. The third school that rated support as
successful would have liked the support to have been in place more quickly and noted
that the educational psychologist had an important role in bringing this about.
One school did not describe the placement as successful or unsuccessful, rather that the
school had managed to cope but in difficult circumstances. They received some non-
specialist support, which seems to have been used as respite for the teacher. The class
teacher felt she was ‘stumbling around in the dark’, and that she was relying on her
experience, good practice, and trial and error, rather than approaching the situation in
a planned, systematic manner.
The placement broke down in the last school. The teacher felt that she had been poorly
supported except by SLT. Even then, SLT became involved later than was appropriate.
That was, on the one hand, because SLT were late in receiving notification from the
psychologist and, on the other, because the school did not realize that they could have
contacted SLT direct. There was a need for a clear link between the diagnostic process
and relevant support services.

Professional preparation and development


All schools tried to accumulate as much information as possible in preparation for
working with a child with autism. However, none had any qualification or particular
interest in support for learning, and none had any experience of children with autism.
Consequently, the usefulness of information they had gathered was limited. One-off
sessions with specialist teachers and speech and language therapists from the local
autism service often contained too much information and did not have a context to
make them meaningful.
Effective provision has roots in knowledge of autism and in knowledge of each
individual child. Most teachers developed effective strategies based on the practice of
sound, reflective teaching. It seemed that their greatest need was reassurance that what
they were doing was acceptable (for it was, in most cases), and that there were no
special methods to learn for the effective teaching of children with autism in a primary
school classroom.
During their year with a child with autism, all teachers had visited Riverside’s specialist
autism base, and most had attended one day courses: both types of development oppor-
tunity were considered helpful. Since the start of this study, Riverside authority has
offered an increase in courses on autism aimed at mainstream staff, in response to
growing demand. Routinely, teachers report that one of the most useful aspects of these
courses is the chance to meet other teachers in the same situation.

Best deployment of special assistants


All schools had assistants working with the children who had autism. They had
Glashan et al.: Teachers’ experience of support 59

received little or no specific training, but their presence in the schools was valued
highly. However, in three cases, the classroom teachers found it stressful being in
charge of another adult when they were not really sure what to do themselves.
Assistants usually had only minimal knowledge of the written and unwritten constitu-
tion of schools. Two schools had to be very explicit about conduct in the classroom, the
most important issue being that the assistant should not talk over the teacher! It seems
clear, therefore, that there should be preparation for both teachers and assistants before
working collaboratively in the classroom.
None of the assistants had any formal training in autism, although most had either started
courses in their own time or had spent time researching the topic, and all showed a con-
siderable personal commitment. However, since the start of this study, Riverside has
undertaken to provide general training with a recognized qualification and, additionally,
autism-specific courses for assistants. It would also seem important for assistants to
have opportunities to meet teachers and assistants from schools other than their own,
in the interests of building a community of knowledge and experience of autism.

Generic learning support teachers


One school chose not to use the generic learning support service that is provided in
Riverside for all children who have a need for additional support. They felt more appro-
priate support could be gained from the education authority’s specialized autism base
and from SLT. One school felt very strongly that the generic service was not adequate
for the child’s and the school’s needs for support. Schools said staff from the generic
service were willing to help but, in most cases, they did not feel that these staff had any
more knowledge or experience than the class teachers themselves. In fact, by the time
the support service was involved, the class teachers had already worked out some
strategies for themselves and were passing these on to the teachers in the generic
support service.
Beyond this study, the authors are familiar with teachers in generic support services
who have studied autism, and who have experience of working with children who are
autistic: such teachers are considered to be supportive by their mainstream colleagues.
However, those generic teachers are a minority, and the crucial factor in supporting
teachers and children with autism does seem to be experience of autism. This is an
important message for the development of services that aim to achieve children’s
maximum inclusion in mainstream education.

Coda
There is potential for much confusion between written policy on inclusion at a national
and local level and the experiences of schools at a management and classroom level.
Various factors contribute to this mismatch:
• the pupil with autism in a mainstream class is part of a community of other pupils,
all of whom have educational needs, which their teachers must meet;
• there is an inconsistent quality of communication among professionals collaborat-
ing to deliver services to children and their families;
• sometimes, parents have conflicting or unrealistic expectations of their children
and of services for their children;
• there is a lack of personnel with knowledge and experience of autism.
60 Improving Schools 7(1)

The class teachers in this study consistently reported that the final item on the afore-
mentioned list was the quality that contributed most to their feeling supported or unsup-
ported in their work with pupils who are autistic. The teachers felt that Riverside’s
generic service of learning support – a standard type of provision throughout Scotland
– was not adequate in helping them respond to children with autism. On that finding,
the autism outreach service is being implemented, not as an alternative to the generic
learning support service but as a complementary service. It is to build on investigations
already carried out by learning support staff, as they are likely to be first on the scene
when a school needs additional assistance. Its priorities are to establish a staff support
and development group, to offer training and advice in autism. More importantly,
perhaps, it will create in Riverside a community of knowledge about autism by encour-
aging links among school staff, across schools and services, to share their growing and
unique experience of working to support the inclusion of children with autism in the
classrooms of mainstream schools.

Gilbert MacKay can be contacted by email at: g.f.mackay@strath.ac.uk

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