WHAT DO TEACHERS IN BERLIN KNOW ABOUT AUTISM?
Jennifer Kirchner1,2, Julia Bartz1,2, Hermann Bullig2, Christoph Chwiekowsky2, Sebastian Dern2, Ernest Götz2, C. Grambert2, Regina Hartmann2, Oliver Speer2, Ulrike Sünkel2, Peter Paul Zurek1,2, Isabel Dziobek1,2
1 Freie Universität Berlin
2 Autismus-Forschungs- Kooperation (AFK) Berlin
Background: The Autism Research Cooperation (Autismus-Forschungs-Kooperation, AFK) is a research partnership between persons belonging to the autistic spectrum and scientists at the Freie Universität Berlin. The aim of the AFK is to conduct research studies to answer questions considered relevant by autistic adults.School attendance plays a vital role for young people with autism on their way towards independent living. Knorr et al. (2010) reported 60% of the teachers interviewed feeling overtaxed in dealing with autistic students. Therefore this study assessed knowledge about autism of Berlin teachers with and without a specialization in special needs education.
Method: The knowledge about autism (diagnostic criteria, strengths, prevalence) was determined using the questionnaire „knowledge about autism“ (Kirchner et al., 2008). The questionnaire was completed by 88 teachers of 4 secondary schools, from which 36 teachers were from a special needs education school. The control group was comprised of 48 persons of the general poulation.
Results: Teachers from the special needs education school knew significantly more about the diagnostic criteria of autism than the general public (p<.05). Teachers from schools without special needs education did not differ in their knowledge about the diagnostic criteria of autism from the general population (p=.8). No significant group differences among all three groups were observed regarding the knowledge about strenghts of autistic people (p=.18). The prevalence of autism was equally underestimated by all three groups (p=.9) as well.
Discussion & Conclusion: According to their specialisation, teachers with special needs education know slightly more about the diagnostic criteria of autism than the general public, but not about the strengths of autistic people. However, knowledge about strengths is essential for their adequate teaching. As many autistic students attend regular schools, knowledge of associated strengths and difficulties are crucial here as well. Our study results show a considerable need of catching up in this regard. By offering feedback on the outcome of this study to german schools and teachers, the AFK hopes to raise awareness about the needs of autistic students.
Conflicts of interests /