Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

Cattolica International

Transforming Autism Education

by Maria Strumendo

Autistic pupils are increasing in Italian schools, and to facilitate integration in the classroom, scholars from Italy, Great Britain and Greece are working to provide teachers with new tools and best practices.

The European project "Transform Autism Education: enhancing the skills, knowledge and understanding of teachers in the UK, Italy and Greece" held its first meeting earlier this month at the University of Birmingham, involving a significant international partnership between Italy, Great Britain and Greece.

The main objective of the project is to promote the integration of pupils with autism whilst supporting the training and development of skills of teachers and educators in primary schools.

A team from Università Cattolica's Centro studi e ricerche per la Disabilità e la Marginalità (Cedisma) were present at the University of Birmingham. The project is financed by the European Commission through the Erasmus+ Programme "Key Action 2: Cooperation for innovation and the exchange of good practices," coordinated by Professor Karen Guldberg, Director of the Autism Centre for Education and Research of the University of Birmingham.

The initiative involves the Greek foundation Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation, the Department of Education at Monza and Brianza, two English Institutions, and Autism Education Trust and Genium Creative, leader in training and preparation of teachers on the issue of Autism and in schools.

In short, Autism is a condition, characterized by great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships. The presence of pupils with Autism is continuously growing, and with this, there is a growing necessity and interest to develop training courses, to equip adequate and effective teachers who will accommodate the pupils in the classroom.

The first phase of research was launched back in November 2014. The team intends to detect and monitor the attitudes and good practices of teachers from the three participating countries (Italy, Great Britain and Greece) in order to promote trainings and workshops dedicated to responding to the real needs of teachers and educators. For this reason, a questionnaire circulated amongst all state schools and Comprehensive Schools in the province of Monza and Brianza. All of the data will be collected by the end of February.

During the first Transnational Meeting in Birmingham, thanks to intensive work, planning and comparison, the research partners got the chance to see the learning experience upfront, in Great Britain, through participating in specific laboratory simulations, the construction of new communication models and dissemination, the development of new means of team building and project management, as well as a visit to two schools specializing in accommodating students with Autism.

New laboratory modules will be developed and tested during the project's three year life span, based on the real needs of teachers in the classrooms.

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