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Teachers demand training to cope with growing number of autistic pupils

 The numbers of pupils with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) is rising rapidly in schools.

TEACHERS are demanding training to cope with growing numbers of children on the autistic spectrum.

The numbers of pupils with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) is rising rapidly in schools.

A recent report from the Department of Health revealed the estimated prevalence of autism had increased across all school years.

There were 7,198 children with autism or Asperger's Syndrome in compulsory grant-aided education last year, a rise from 3,278 in 2008/09.

The Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU) said pupils were still not getting the support to which they were statutorily entitled.

With a higher proportion of ASD children being excluded and suspended, the union said there was a need for mandatory funded training.

UTU general secretary Avril Hall Callaghan said she feared young people were losing out on their education because schools did not have the support to cope.

"Since 2002 the numbers of pupils affected by Autistic Spectrum Disorder have quadrupled," she said.

"The most recent report from the Department of Health confirmed that there has been a 67 per cent increase in school age children in Northern Ireland diagnosed, yet children are still not getting the support to which they are statutorily entitled.

"One of the chief reasons for this lack of support for ASD children is the funding policy. The level of funding and the level of need are so far apart that teachers are in despair."

She added that the UTU wanted "mandatory training for both teachers and classroom assistants in the field of autism".

"At present, teachers have to organise and undertake training themselves in their own time as the employing authority don't provide funding for cover for their class during school time," she said.

"These children are being denied what is enshrined as their statutory right and many are suffering as a result, withdrawn from mainstream settings, not because they can't cope academically, but because class sizes are too big and they haven't the in-class support to fulfil their potential."

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