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Reasonable adjustments

Understanding the learning characteristics of people with ASD is very important in developing and implementing a training plan that will both challenge and engage the student

So what exactly does this intriguing phrase 'reasonable adjustments' actually mean? Under the Disability Discrimination Act (1992), students with disabilities are entitled to ‘reasonable adjustments' in education and vocational training. In addition, section 3-8 of the Disabilities Standards for Education (2005) set out the standards that vocational education institutions must follow in reference to ‘reasonable adjustments'.

Reasonable adjustments include modifying course material, modifying or providing equipment as well as modifying environment. It also includes differentiated teaching strategies and individual learner support to the student. These adjustments are determined in collaboration with the student, their advocate, vocational class teacher and disabilities teacher/consultant. These measures are important because they ensure students with disability have the same educational opportunities as everyone else.

To comply with this policy, TAFE institutes in NSW have specialist disability teachers qualified to service six specific disability groups (physical, hearing, vision, intellectual, neurological and psychiatric). In a report titled Improving quality outcomes, Kelly & Blecich (2011) explain that providing differentiated teaching strategies as well as an enabling environment for students with disabilities do lead to improved outcomes. Mesibov (2000), Kunce (1998) and Hume (2010)  pose that there is a link between intensive, structured educational intervention and acquisition of skills across a broad range of areas.

"Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder and the exact cause is not known" (Johnson Plauche). It is characterised by difficulties in the following domains:

  • social communication
  • social interaction
  • restricted, repetitive behaviours, abstract reasoning and a strong desire for consistency.
  • Students with ASD are not a homogenous group because the core characteristics range in severity. Moreover, people do grow and develop. Therefore the skill area on the continuum can vary over time.

    Prior to planning a class session it is crucial to have a good understanding of the student's learning profile and to have an understanding of the pattern of strengths and weaknesses. In my years of experience I have found that the strengths can be used to diminish the weaknesses.

    Students with ASD may have difficulty in verbal tests because of comprehension difficulties. Therefore it isn't enough to provide a student with verbal instructions because the information is transient and it may not get processed. The student requires a visual representation in the form of power points or worksheets to allow them the time to process. Some students prefer to use a list that they can check off each time the task is completed. Having structure, scaffolds and breaking the task down is important as some students struggle with subjects requiring an understanding of abstract concepts and critical thinking.

    Difficulties in social communication  often mean that  students with ASD find giving a class presentation  extremely difficult. It is therefore considered reasonable for the student to be allowed to present to their teacher instead of the whole class.

    Understanding the learning characteristics of people with ASD is very important in developing and implementing a training plan that will both challenge and engage the student. According to the Disability Discrimination Act (1992), people with disabilities are entitled to ‘reasonable adjustments' to access and take part in training, free from discrimination and on the same basis as all other students. Studies have demonstrated that students with ASD seem to thrive in environments that enable the individual to utilize innate strengths to overcome weaknesses. Traditional instructional design and classrooms present students with ASD a range of barriers that prevent them from achieving true access. Therefore, it's important to be able to manipulate the classroom environment, providing additional visual supports, differentiated teaching, and modified assessments. It is paramount these good practices are embedded and that disabilities teachers are given opportunities to contribute their experience to ensure successful outcomes. This of course, is possible in an atmosphere of collaboration, partnership and mutual benefit for all stakeholders.