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LCQ14: Support for students with autism

    Following is a question by the Hon Bernard Chan and a written reply by the Secretary for Education and Manpower, Professor Arthur K C Li, in the Legislative Council today (February 28):

Question :

     It has been reported that there are currently about 10 000 children suffering from autism in Hong Kong but the Government has not set up specialised schools for autistic children.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it has assessed how children with autism studying in normal or special schools are learning and adapting, and whether they have encountered any special difficulties;

(b) of the reasons for the Government not setting up specialised schools for autistic children, and whether it has assessed the need in this regard;

(c) whether it will consider setting up, or encouraging school sponsoring bodies to set up, specialised schools for autistic children, to cater for the special needs of such children; and

(d) of the long-term measures to help autistic children as well as their parents and teachers, so that autistic children will be provided with suitable education?

Reply :

Madam President,

(a) Students with autism usually encounter different degrees of difficulties in learning and social adjustment.  Hence, irrespective of whether they study in ordinary schools or special schools, they need additional support of different intensities.  The progress of their learning and social adjustment does not only vary from person to person, but is also affected by both individual maturation and environmental factors.  In general, with the appropriate support of schools and parents, students with mild autism can integrate into ordinary schools more easily; and the level of support required can thus be reduced gradually.  Some students with relatively severe autism may take a longer time to adapt.  In some individual cases, the parents of the children with autism and intellectual disability insist on sending the children to ordinary schools, despite the offer of placement in special schools.  These children usually have persistent difficulties in social adjustment and learning, thus exerting much pressure on the schools and teachers.  Very often, they would end up seeking placement in special schools.

     If teachers encounter difficulties in dealing with students with autism, relevant professional workers like the educational psychologists and special education support officers from the Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB) would render assistance.  They would work with the teachers and parents concerned on the appropriate behavioural management strategies and review the studentsˇ¦ progress regularly.

(b) and (c)

     According to EMB's records, there are at present 2384 students with autism studying in special and ordinary schools.  The majority of them have intellectual disability and usually study in special schools for children with intellectual disability, which provide combined support for their dual disabilities. The rest have average intelligence and can benefit more from the ordinary school settings as their non-disabled peers can provide them with rich language stimulation and models of social skills.  Such environmental factors are conducive to mitigating their learning and social adjustment difficulties.  It is the Government's policy to promote integrated education for students with special educational needs (including autism) who can benefit from the ordinary school settings. This is in line with the world trend.  Hence, the Administration does not consider it necessary to set up or encourage school sponsoring bodies to set up specialised schools only for students with autism.

(d) Our future direction is that students with both autism and intellectual disability should be placed in special schools for children with intellectual disability.  To support students with autism and average intelligence studying in ordinary schools, we adopt the principle of early identification and early intervention, encourage parents to inform schools of their children's disability as early as possible, and promote the whole-school approach in supporting students with special educational needs, including autism.  Schools will be provided with appropriate resources and professional support which include:

* To deploy additional resources holistically for supporting students with diverse learning needs.  Other than the basic provisions (such as Capacity Enhancement Grant, enhanced student guidance support and additional teachers), there are designated resources for students with special educational needs, like Intensive Remedial Teaching Programme, New Funding Mode and the Integrated Education Programme etc;

* In order to enhance teachers' professional capacity in supporting students with autism and other types of special educational needs, we have formulated a five-year special education training framework with training targets, starting from the 2007/08 school year.  The training framework comprises a 30-hour basic course, a 90-hour advanced course and some 40 to 60-hour thematic courses (with focus on how to support students with certain types of special educational needs such as autism and specific learning difficulties, etc.).  Our training targets are that in the five-year period starting from the 2007/08 school year, at least 10% of the teachers in a school will have completed the basic training; at least three teachers per school will have completed the advanced training; and at least one teacher will attend the thematic training on a certain type of special educational needs.  To encourage teachers to attend the courses, supply teachers will be provided for the schools;

* The EMB has produced a resource package on "Integrated Education - Understanding Students with Autism" for primary and secondary schools, and will continue to organise more regional and school-based training courses, seminars and workshops to enhance teachers' knowledge and skills in supporting students with autism.  Teaching resources will continue to be developed on a need basis;

     To provide the network support for ordinary schools, there are at present 16 special schools serving as special schools cum resource centres and seven ordinary schools as resource schools adopting the whole-school approach.  We plan to increase the number of resource schools and enhance their capacity to provide network support for ordinary schools.  Their support services cover teacher empowerment, on-site support, and sharing of experiences and resources.  There is a plan for special schools cum resource centres to run short-term attachment programmes for some students with severe emotional and adjustment difficulties from their partner schools on a need basis, with a view to transferring the skills to the teachers; and

     To enhance the effectiveness of the whole-school approach and to enable schools and parents to better understand their roles in the education of students with special educational needs, we are compiling a "Guide on Integrated Education" for schools and another one for parents.  Schools and non-government organisations are encouraged to organise more educational activities for parents of students with autism, so that the parents can collaborate with the schools more effectively.  This is particularly helpful for the smooth transition of students from pre-school to primary school settings, and from primary to secondary school settings.

Ends/Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Issued at HKT 14:42


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