Program helps autistic pupils control classroom behavior

Local | Nicole Lui 7 Jul 2016

Students with autism spectrum disorder can learn to control their behavior in the classroom with professional support, a University of Hong Kong study has found.

Since the launch of the "JC A-Connect: Jockey Club Autism Support Network" in June last year, HKU has partnered with six nongovernmental organizations and worked with about 3,000 autistic students from 311 primary and secondary schools - about 40 percent of such students studying in public-sector mainstream schools.

Small groups of four to six students join together once a week for an hour and a half with a teacher and professional trainer from one of the NGOs who teaches them to visually envision their behavior, the impact it has on others and how to control it.

The program improved each child's social, emotional and learning skills, thus allowing the teacher to focus more on the class and other students.

Chan Hiu-ngai, a teacher at Cheong Wong Wai Primary School, told of changes she saw in one Primary Three student.

"He would always yell and cry when we had Chinese class but he has since learned to manage his emotions," she said.

"Knowing that black marbles give negative vibes and red marbles give positive vibes, he understands that if he is able to collect more red marbles for his good behavior, others will get a more positive impression of him.

"In addition, after classifying his behavior on a color scale, he is given cards to remind him of how to control his behavior, for example, counting to 20 to calm down."

A total of 25 hours a school year is spent on training groups, with 18 hours dedicated to students and the rest on workshops for teachers and parents.

Although this means only 12 training classes for the students in a year, these measures continue to be practiced on a daily basis outside the training class with teachers, parents and schoolmates to help and remind them of the impact of their behavior.

"I hope by the end of this project, the knowledge, skills and confidence of teachers and parents will be enhanced and the effective strategies taught to them could be shared with other schools in Hong Kong to support the needs of ASD children," said Irene Ho Tak-fong, project director and assistant professor at HKU's department of psychology.

The study is expected to carry on for another two school years to continually monitor the growth of these students and also to accommodate more schools.

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