The Development of a Training Strategy for (ASD) in NI

Background and Executive Summary

Internationally there has been a marked increase the ascertainment of children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Prevalence rates in excess of 1 per 100 have been reported in the United Kingdom and in the United States.  It is well recognised that these children place extra demands on health, education and social services.  Moreover as the children age, additional services will need to adjust their provision, such as further education, vocational training and employment support services as well as supported accommodation.  An essential requirement is that personnel in mainstream services have some basic understanding of this condition and are enabled to make suitable adjustments to the way they interact with these young people and their families.  To date however, there has been few attempts to develop a model of an integrated training strategy in relation to ASD.  Ideally this would have a number of attributes:

  • It would cover all age ranges of persons with ASD from early identification in the preschool years, through childhood and adolescence into early adulthood.
  • It would be multi-agency and multi-disciplinary so that the insights and contributions of various professions can be shared and made accessible across relevant service agencies.
  • It would incorporate the needs of families for education and training so that partnership working with professionals can become a reality.

Northern Ireland with a population of 1.7 million provided an ideal context in which to develop such a model of multi-agency training.  The region has devolved government with discrete Departments with responsibility for different functions; it has a mix of statutory and non-statutory agencies providing the range of services required by these children and families (albeit in a rudimentary ways in some instances) and it has an active parental organisation in AutismNI which has undertaken various research and development projects in association with its research partner, University of Ulster (see Appendix 1, which also lists pertinent international literature).

This report outlines the process that was followed in developing the training model and provides the evidence-base for the recommendations made. 

A Steering Group with representatives from various interests guided the work of the project.

The proposed training strategy is underpinned by the following sources of information and opinions which were gathered during the course of the project.  The data cited is an example of similar information that could be gathered in other regions or countries wishing to create their own training strategy. 

  • An analysis of existing policies on ASD within Northern Ireland.  A similar undertaking could be taken in other countries and regions (see Appendix 2).
  • A survey of training provision in two consecutive years across different agencies and their experiences of delivering training within Northern Ireland (see Appendix 3);
  • Analysis of attenders at past training courses and feedback from them on training needs and preferences (see Appendix 4);
  • The experiences and opinions of significant persons involved in training within HPSS and Education obtained through individual interviews and three Round Table meetings (see Appendix 5).
  • The views of parents on access to information and training (see Appendix 6).
  • A review of training policy and practices in ASD in Scotland (See Appendix 7)

The Strategy focuses mainly on the provision of training courses.  These are defined as a structured series of learning experiences with the focus on a particular topic pertinent to ASD that are applicable to a range of persons with ASD and to various service and family settings.   It is recognised that other forms of training experiences are provided within the context of service delivery and these are described later (such as individual mentoring), but it is presumed that these will be all the more effective if linked with a systematic training course that provides a broader understanding and perspective.  

In order to gain as broad a consensus as possible for the Strategy, an iterative process was used that shared information obtained and views expressed as the project unfolded.

  • An early overview paper was considered by the Project Steering Group based on preliminary information collected about existing training courses and reactions from past participants in training courses.
  • A revised version of the Strategy was shared with significant persons from different sectors for comment as part of a series of individual interviews.
  • A draft Strategy paper was presented at two Round Table meetings attended by nearly 30 stake-holders in training for ASD, drawn from HSS and Education.
  • The first draft of the report on the Strategy was shared with representatives from different sections in DHSSPS with an involvement in this topic and with colleagues from Education and the Middletown Centre.
  • The Steering Group along with all the stake-holders involved in the interviews and Round Tables had an opportunity to comment on the final report on the proposed Strategy prior to its submission to DHSSPS.