Lessner Lištiaková, I., Lisak, N., Troshanska, J., Kossewska, J., Stošić, J. &Preece, D. (2020) Teaching Children on the Autism Spectrum: Perspectives and developmental needs of specialist educators from Croatia, North Macedonia and Poland. Accepted for European Conference on Education Research ECER 2020, August 2020 Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this conference was cancelled.

Abstract. This paper presents the analysis of focus group data gathered from teachers in Croatia, the Republic of North Macedonia and Poland. Specialist educators in all settings were facing significant challenges in their daily work. Mainstream educators were often uncertain how to include children with autism in the classroom: what approaches and methods to use, how to support communication and social interaction with peers, and how to organise activities and the classroom/school environment to address the needs of all. School leaders often lacked understanding about autism, and effective collaboration with teaching assistants and effective working relationships with parents could be hard to achieve. Teachers in special school also spoke of their difficulties teaching children with autism in what were often challenging physical environments, the complex and multiple needs of the children in their classes, and the need to develop effective and positive relationships with other professionals and parents. Managing challenging behaviour was identified as a key issue across both mainstream and special schools. Support regarding effective planning and assessment and the need for whole-school approaches that took account of the characteristics and learning styles of autism were also identified as key. Educators spoke of the need for more inclusive teaching approaches, encouraging parental participation in planning and activities and providing consistency to learners. Overall, a need for training and professional development – not only regarding theory, but importantly focused on effective strategies to inform their teaching, assessment and classroom management – was identified across all groups. Policy development must go hand-in-hand with appropriate developmental opportunities to ensure the effectiveness of inclusive policies.

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