New Research - Integrating autistic children in mainstream care

Library Home  >  Health, Wellbeing & NutritionEarly Childhood Research
  Published on Tuesday, 19 February 2019

New Research - Integrating autistic children in mainstream care

Library Home  >  Health, Wellbeing & NutritionEarly Childhood Research
  Published on Tuesday, 19 February 2019

There is a lot of awareness and interest in supporting autistic children to successfully assimilate into mainstream school alongside their non-autistic peers. However, given that more children are being diagnosed with autism at a much younger age (such as toddlers), experts believe the early childhood sector should also now be included in this area.

Exciting new research from La Trobe University in Melbourne, shows that with support, educators can effectively include and teach children on the spectrum in mainstream early childhood settings, something that would significantly help many families struggling to meet the financial and time commitments usually required to help their autistic child's development.

Looking local

While learning support programs focused on language, cognition and independence skills have been proven to be very effective with autistic children (especially when introduced early), the reality is that often they’re expensive and not very convenient, requiring many different therapists, long distance travel and in-home visits.

La Trobe University researchers therefore believe the solution lies within local mainstream long day care centres and preschools. However, the problem is that if early childhood professionals don't know how to properly manage and meet the learning needs of children on the spectrum, they could suffer in terms in development and interaction with other kids.

Testing the theory

The research team decided to see if it was possible to effectively introduce early intervention methods within mainstream early childhood settings, with no negative consequences. They conducted a study consisting of 44 children over the course of one year – half within specialised care and the other in mainstream child care.

The Group-Early Start Denver Model (G-ESDM) specialised intervention method was used for all children, where each child's personalised learning goals were targeted throughout each day during regular activities and routines. The results were as follows:

  • Educators were able to learn the G-ESDM strategies and used them in everyday activities, in both the mainstream and specialised early childhood locations.
  • On average the children's social interaction, imitation, language and independence skills improved during the year; with similar gains in both the specialised and mainstream care.
  • Other separate researchers (unaware of what the study was about), rated the educational environment highly in terms of quality teaching and learning practices, indicating the autistic strategies had no negative impact on the mainstream early childhood education and care program.

A big step forward

This study is a fantastic step in the right direction with regards to helping more children on the spectrum receive access to quality learning support via the local community. Unfortunately, substantial resources, such as staff training and ongoing support, are required to enable early childhood education and care professionals in mainstream settings to deliver the G-ESDM program.

In 2019, the researchers will be exploring whether a more streamlined and affordable approach can yield the same results, in addition to conducting more studies on a larger scale.

We look forward to bringing you more updates and insights in this area!

Thanks to La Trobe University and The Conversation for this innovative research and findings.

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Monday, 30 December 2019



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