Is It Essential That My Child's Classroom Teacher Be An "Autism Specialist"?

Question: Is it essential that my child's classroom teacher be an "autism specialist," or is it sufficient if he/she's provided with training and ongoing supervision by an "autism specialist"?

Answer: In thinking through whether the child with autism requires a teacher who has specific autism training, the child's needs really will dictate the level of expertise required in that area. Certainly again, in terms of meeting the educational needs of the child with autism, the classroom setting needs to cover three bases: the academic needs, the social curriculum and a way of addressing any maladaptive behaviors.

Clearly, the teacher will be in a position in the mainstream to address the academic needs for the child. But it's important that the social curriculum be addressed. And that will involve both recognition of the social needs of the child and then plans for intervening or a particular curriculum.

Many teachers without particular expertise in autism can benefit from specific training in these matters. This can be either a push-in model, where therapists are available to do some of the educating. There are social skills training modules and programs such as the SOS programs -- Social Skills in Our Schools -- that work with classrooms to help teachers identify and address a social curriculum. And I would say that there are models in which the teacher has opportunities for additional training outside the classroom.

All of these have the same goal, which is basically that the classroom setting be able to address not only the academic needs of the child, but actively identify and address the social needs as well. And the same can be said about any maladaptive behaviors that need to be addressed for the child to be able to function in the mainstream.