A New Approach to Autism Education
Autism Spectrum Disorder is an individual, family, school, and community issue.
Almost 9,000 children in mainstream Hong Kong primary and secondary schools are known to have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The condition affects their learning ability, educational outcomes, social and emotional life and life prospects to varying degrees. The burden of care on their parents, caregivers and teachers can be heavy and unrelenting. Effective help is at hand in the shape of a new model called the JC A-Connect: Jockey Club Autism Support Network by two HKU researchers in the Faculty of Social Sciences and being rolled out across schools this year by the Education Bureau, which will spend HK$62 million a year to provide small group training for ASD students in schools.
“The key features of our model are to introduce the expertise of NGOs to schools by providing school-based services, and to provide supplemental training to students with ASD in a small group format using evidence-based methods,” explained Dr Kathy Wong of the Department of Psychology.
The programme targets students’ individual needs, training the key stakeholders – NGOs, teachers and parents – and educating the public to promote acceptance and understanding of autism. In schools, NGO professionals are trained to provide in-school support for the students. At home, parents are trained to help their children, and in the community, awareness-raising activities help make autism better understood and free from stigmatisation.
The project was launched in 2015 and works with eight NGOs. So far, it has been implemented in 510 schools, reaching 6,800 students, which is approximately 55 per cent of all ASD students in mainstream schools. 27 training seminars have been run for more than 3,000 teachers, as well as nine training seminars reaching more than 780 NGO team leaders, advisors and coaches.
Students have shown big improvements in areas from social communication and emotional control to executive functioning and problem-solving. Parents also report that their children have better relationships with classmates and teachers, participate more fully in school and are more confident. Teachers report a better understanding of their students’ needs and problems, improved ability to manage ASD-related problems and positive feeling about mainstream education for ASD students.
“One school asked for materials so that they could continue to train even when the NGO was not in the school. Teachers wanted to do more because they could see the effect,” Dr Kathy Wong said.
“Many people don’t have a friendly perspective on ASD,” said Dr Paul Wong of the Department of Social Work and Social Administration. The team has held 22 public education events including film screenings, family fun days and seminars reaching an audience of almost 17,000 people. Media stories, experiential videos and newsletters have reached number of views of about 27 million.
Dr Kathy Wong of the Department of Psychology and Dr Paul Wai Ching Wong of the Department of Social Work and Social Administration, and team members - Dr Sonia Man Kuen Chan, Mr Wan Hap Lui, Ms Elsa Lai Yi Chiu, Ms Sin Ting Ho, Ms Chui Ying Leung, Ms Lourdes Mei Oi Lam, Miss Tsz Wing Lee, Miss Conita Chi Ping Cheng, Dr Man Yan Tse, Ms Yu Wan Chan, Miss Ning Lee, Ms Evelyn Sin Kwan Mak, Miss Mei Ling Lo, Miss Sin Yi Ho, Miss Karen Kin Ching Wu of the Department of Psychology; and Dr Janet Siu Ping Lau, Ms Kylie Chiu Yee Lui, Mr Mong Yin Lau, Ms Carmen Ka Mun Wong, Miss Yan Yin Lam, Mr Wing Yip Lai, Miss Gi Gi Pui Chi Lau, Mr Chun Ming Tsui, Mr Wai Kei Leung of the Faculty of Social Sciences, received the Faculty Knowledge Exchange Award 2020 of the Faculty of Social Sciences for the project ‘JC A-Connect: Jockey Club Autism Support Network’.