Šilas School of Vilnius, together with educational and business establishments in Lithuania, Estonia, Cyprus, Norway and France, is implementing the European Union-funded ERASMUS+ KA229 Strategic Partnership Innovation Project START LEARNING BOX to develop learning tools for 6–7 year old children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Based on the integrated education model, this innovative tool will help children and teachers to take forward the ideas of inclusive education. START LEARNING BOX is developed by teachers, educational support specialists and practising artists with many years of experience in the field of special needs education. You are welcome to have a look at a few pages of this tool:
|LIETUVIŲ KALBA||LITHUANIAN LANGUAGE|
|AŠ IR MANO ŠEIMA||ME AND MY FAMILY|
|3. Į LANGELĮ ĮRAŠYK, KĄ MATAI.||3. WHAT DO YOU SEE IN THE PICTURE? ENTER YOUR ANSWER IN THE BOX BELOW|
|4. SUGALVOK IR ĮRAŠYK RĖMELYJE ŠUNELIO VARDĄ.||4. NAME THE DOG AND WRITE DOWN ITS NAME IN THE BOX BELOW|
|5. NUPIEŠK ŠUNELIUI PAVADĖLĮ. JĮ PAPUOŠK:||5. DRAW A LEASH FOR THE DOG. DECORATE IT WITH:|
|VINGIUOTOMIS LINIJOMIS||CURVED LINES|
|AŠ IR MANO ŠEIMA||ME AND MY FAMILY|
|1. ŠUNŲ BŪNA VISOKIŲ – DIDELIŲ, MAŽŲ, ĮVAIRIŲ SPALVŲ IR VEISLIŲ. APIBRAUK, KURIS ŠUO TAU GRAŽIAUSIAS.||1. THERE ARE ALL KINDS OF DOGS – BOTH BIG AND SMALL. THEY CAN BE OF DIFFERENT COLOURS AND DIFFERENT BREEDS. WHICH DOG DO YOU FIND MOST BEAUTIFUL? CIRCLE THE PICTURE.|
As part of the project, a survey was organised for parents raising children with autism spectrum disorders and for educators, educational support specialists working with students with autism spectrum disorders. Myths about autism spectrum disorders are still very common in today’s educational environment (e.g., autism as a consequence of rubella vaccination, inadequate parenting, etc.), so it was very important to find out how countries understand and identify autism. The survey was conducted in Lithuania, France, Cyprus, Estonia and Norway. The results of the analysis of this questionnaire helped in the process of developing the innovative tool.
It should be noted that the survey results clearly showed that stereotypes about children on the autism spectrum are not common. Education professionals (teachers, social educators, psychologists, occupational therapists and other specialists) from all five countries who participated in the survey confirmed that autism is not the result of poor parenting, children with autism spectrum disorders are not being rude if they do not speak.
In this survey, we noticed some significant differences among the countries. There are no specialised schools and/or boarding schools in Norway. Regardless of their development, children attend the same schools. It is also interesting to note that there is only a very small percentage of private schools in Norway, and the teaching profession is considered prestigious. Teachers’ salaries are higher in public schools than in private ones. Such a policy contributes to improving the quality of education in the country.
This is also reflected in other survey results, with 83% of Norwegian teachers believing that they can easily adapt their curricula to children with autism spectrum disorders. In France, the figure is only 15%, in Lithuania – 14%, and in Cyprus and Estonia – 42%. France does indeed face significant difficulties in integrating children with autism spectrum disorders into the standard education system. The situation is similar in Lithuania. There is one more interesting difference to note. In Estonia, 35% of Russian-speaking teachers and as many as 86% of Estonian-speaking teachers at the Tallinna Kadaka Põhikool special school primarily lack cooperation with other education professionals: psychologists, speech therapists, social educators, and with parents.
The survey results revealed that almost in all of the countries the involvement of parents, in one form or another, in the teaching process of children with autism spectrum disorders and cooperation with the teachers, occupational therapists, psychologists, social educators, speech therapists and other education professionals is seen as crucial. The parents understand that learning at home is a necessary factor to ensure the continuity of the learning process.
The survey results show that, except for France, in the countries surveyed (Cyprus, Lithuania, Estonia), it is most important for parents of children with autism spectrum disorders that their child learn their mother tongue. In France, the parents believe that the most important thing is to teach their children music, arts and only then the mother tongue. The prevailing opinion in this country is that rhythm, music and arts encourage the learning of other subjects, e.g., mathematics, mother tongue or foreign languages.
Another interesting aspect emerged from the analysis of the survey results of different countries. Parents in different countries indicated which professionals their child needed most:
- In Lithuania: teaching assistant, speech therapist and occupational therapist.
- In France: music/art specialist and teaching assistant.
- In Cyprus: speech therapist, occupational therapist and music/art specialist.
- In Estonia: social educator, speech therapist and psychologist.
Almost in all of the countries, parents pay special attention to the quality of services provided by a speech therapist and a teaching assistant.
In France, music and art teachers play a key role. This further supports the findings of the above-mentioned survey regarding teachers – music, applied arts and fine arts have an important role in the field of education in France.
The survey results helped to highlight the most relevant topics for parents. In the START LEARNING BOX tool, the parts covering understanding the world, mother tongue, mathematics, arts and music have one topic in common, e.g., Me and My Family, My School, In the City, etc. The teaching materials are designed to include items found in the child’s immediate surroundings, leaving pages free from additional information, i.e., visual noise. Illustrations and other visual materials were prepared in cooperation with special educators from partner countries.
The pilot version of the START LEARNING BOX teaching tool that is part of the Erasmus+ project will be launched in 2021–2022 and translated into foreign languages. We very much hope that the developed START LEARNING BOX tool will help our educators and various specialists in the field of education working with children with autism spectrum disorders.
Illustration: Linas Spurga
Dr. Giedrė Cibulskaitė-Veršinskienė
Director at Eurl Aristote, Lecturer at the Sorbonne University