Dr Jill Ashburner

Jill Ashburner is the Manager, Research and Development at Autism Queensland whose career in the disability sector has spanned 35 years. She is a Project Leader with Autism CRC.

Dr Ashburner will present in the Autism CRC Program 2 Panel on Day 2. (Symposium 6, 11am-12.30pm).

Using a Universal Design Framework to adapt Mainstream classrooms to Accommodate Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Overview: Although the majority (an estimated 73%) of Australian students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is included in mainstream classrooms, research to date has focused largely on programs conducted in segregated, disability-specific classrooms.

Students with ASD experience many challenges that can impede their performance in mainstream classrooms. For example, they experience attention and executive function difficulties that limit their capacity to stay on task. Because they lack the flexibility to transition between tasks, unexpected changes within the school day can result in behavioural 'meltdowns'. These students also commonly have illegible handwriting and are challenged by the conceptual aspects of written composition. As they process sensory input differently, they often find the noise and commotion of classrooms overwhelming. Their capacity to follow the teacher's instructions in noisy classrooms is affected by difficulties understanding speech in the presence of background noise. Contemporary 'Universal Design for Learning' (UDL) principles recommend designing classrooms and programs from the outset to accommodate diverse learners, rather than 'retrofitting' programs.

Three projects funded by the Autism Cooperative Research Centre are underpinned by UDL principles with the aims of accommodating the learning needs of students with ASD in an inclusive and non-stigmatizing way.

The first project investigates the efficacy of applying structured teaching principles to mainstream classrooms to enhance the capacity of students with ASD to stay on task and transition between tasks. For example, visual schedules and work systems will be used to inform the student about 'what to do', 'how long for', 'when the task is finished', and 'what happens next'.

The second project harnesses the power of assistive technology to facilitate the capacity of students with ASD to express themselves in writing. Assistive technology will be used in combination with a series of videos to deliver an explicit writing strategy to overcome the writing difficulties of students with ASD.

The third project explores the efficacy of using sound field amplification systems to improve classroom acoustics with the aim of enhancing the capacity of students with ASD to follow the teacher's instructions. It is anticipated that the strategies being explored in these three projects will benefit students with a range of learning needs, in addition to those with ASD.

Also presenting in this session are:
Assoc Prof Kate Sofronoff
Dr Beth Saggers.