The Autism Education Trust (AET) celebrated training over 100,000 professionals this week (11 July), with a special event at the Houses of Parliament.

Ann Gross, Director for Children and Families at the Department for Education, was among the speakers and highlighted the difference the programme has made to children in the autism spectrum in England.

This week also saw the Government confirming that, from September 2018, every new teacher in England will have to learn about the needs of autistic children and young people as part of their teacher training.

The Autism Education Trust (AET) is a partnership between Ambitious about Autism, the Autism Alliance and The National Autistic Society. It is funded and supported by the Department for Education (DfE) and hosted on behalf of the partnership by our charity.

The AET is a partnership of a wide range of organisations from the voluntary, public and private sectors, focused on improving the education of children and young people on the autism spectrum. It also actively engages with young people, parents/carers and practitioners to inform its work.

More than 1 in 100 children are on the autism spectrum, including around 120,000 school-aged children in England. Over 70% go to mainstream schools, which means education professionals are bound to work with autistic students. This is why the AET believe it's so important to improve understanding of autism across the education sector.

Ann Gross said: “We want every child to receive the best education possible, including those with autism. We know how important it is that education staff who work with autistic children understand their needs. That’s why we have provided just over £4m to AET since 2011, which they have used to train 100,000 people working in early years, school and further education settings who have been really positive about what they have learned.”

Alex Gibbs, an expert reference group member of the AET, speaking at the event.

Jolanta Lasota, Chair of the AET, thanked the 40 organisations who have developed, delivered or supported the programme including voluntary organisations, local authorities, schools and universities.

The AET’s schools, early years and post 16 programmes each contain at least three training modules: a short course for general awareness, strategies for practitioners and training for leaders responsible for improving provision. The training is delivered by 28 regional training hubs which cover the whole of England. It is the largest programme of its type in Europe.

Dr. Steve Huggett, Director of the Autism Education Trust, said: “The striking success of the AET programme is a testament to the hard work, creativity and commitment of the people in the many different organisations who comprise the AET partnership.

“Most education professionals will work with autistic students during their career. These staff don't need to be experts - a basic understanding of autism can make all the difference. So much of the AET training and materials is applicable as well to a much broader range of young people with special needs.”

“Autism affects each person differently - some children are able to able to excel in mainstream schools while others require extensive support in mainstream or more specialist settings. But all children on the autism spectrum need teachers and support staff who understand them.”

Helen Teasdale (picture below), who lives in Leeds, was trained by the AET in 2014, when she was a teaching assistant working with a child on the autism spectrum in a local school. Since then, she's gone onto launch The Jigsaw Tree, an online autism resource and a support group for parents of children on the autism spectrum. She is now an outreach worker for STARS, helping teachers in Leeds schools to improve their knowledge of autism.

Helen said: “So much of my life has been defined by a student on the autism spectrum I supported as a teaching assistant a few years ago. Working with him, I realised that my own daughter shared similar strengths and weaknesses and that she was probably on the spectrum too.

“I read more and more about autism and went on several courses with the Autism Education Trust, and was awarded an AET gold award for good autism practice. It was empowering, giving me more confidence to try out different strategies and to share my knowledge with other staff at the school.

“Each child on the autism spectrum is so different so it’s all about finding out what works for the individual.”

Laura Thundercliffe (picture below), who lives in Leeds, is a speech and language therapist and received training from the Autism Education Trust a couple of years ago. She is now part of The Talking House who are currently based in 15 schools across West Yorkshire. She said: “My main focus is for the children to be in an environment they're comfortable and happy in so that they can develop communication skills, learn and thrive.

“It's so important for teachers to understand the sensory needs of a child with autism, why visual symbols and prompts are helpful, how to communicate effectively, how to change the language they use and how to differentiate work in a way that will engage and motivate them.

“Walking through schools and seeing these things starting to happen means that the AET and professionals who have under taken their training are changing the lives of children with autism, and it's great to be a part of that.”

Visit the Autism Education Trust website for more information.