More support needed for educators to support children with autism to manage anxiety

by Freya Lucas

February 08

Professional development is needed to increase educator knowledge about behaviour in children with autism who are experiencing anxiety, researchers from Queensland’s Griffith University have said.

 

The study showed that when educators were found to be aware of a child’s autism their responses to the child’s behaviour changed relative to how they would treat other children.

 

The study, recently published in Research in Developmental Disabilities, found that educators were more likely to use responses that encouraged autonomy and problem solving with children that presented as neurotypical (those without, or those who they were not aware of having, autism spectrum disorder) than those who were autistic.

 

In addition, they tended to be more inclined to rewarded resilience and independence with neurotypical children than with those children who had autism spectrum disorder.

 

The study found that when educators were aware of a child having autism spectrum disorder, and where educators were more familiar with the condition, they were found to use responses which may be detrimental and increase anxiety, such as over-protection, or avoidance.

 

The research focused on 64 primary and secondary school educators, but the findings will likely be of interest to early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, as educators seek to better understand and work with children and families living with autism spectrum disorder.

 

Dr Dawn Adams, lead researcher of the study, said that whilst at least 50 per cent of children with autism spectrum disorder experienced clinical levels of anxiety, there was little research focusing on anxiety in educational environments for children with both autism spectrum disorder and anxiety.

 

“This is the first study to explore how educators respond to anxiety-related behaviours in students with autism and compare how these may differ from responses to children without a diagnosis of autism,’’ Dr Adams said.

 

“Educators report they are likely to respond differently to anxiety-related behaviours of students on the autism spectrum, but the causes and impact of such differences are yet to be determined.” she added.

 

Dr Adams speculated that educators may feel apprehensive about how to best support children with autism to regulate their behaviour, with previous research showing that educators are often concerned or ill-prepared to support students with autism in the realm of behaviour. She speculated that the combination of autism and anxiety increase these feelings of apprehension, calling for additional research to investigate anxiety in children with autism in educational environments.

 

Future research avenues identified through the study included educator patterns of responding, and the development of effective professional development which could be offered to educators supporting children with autism.”

 

Advice and support, including free professional development videos on autism and anxiety, can be accessed via the Autism Centre of Excellence Facebook page.

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