At one of the first sessions of START, our presenter acknowledged that attendees had different levels of knowledge about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). To make us all aware (I guess), one of the first slides had these three words: "novice," "intermediate," and "advanced."
Knowing who all was attending, I figured this to be true. We had seasoned therapists, social workers, and special education teachers who work with kids on the spectrum regularly. I figure these professionals would most likely be classified as having at least an intermediate level of autism knowledge--if not advanced.
Then we had regular education teachers and school administrators who may or may not be novices. Of all the people attending the trainings, I'm pretty sure that this is the group that has had the least amount of contact with people on the autism spectrum. This is the group I figure might benefit the most from the trainings, though honestly I think every single person attending probably can learn more and benefit more.
The presenters did not define the levels for us, but I'll attempt to do that in the next few paragraphs. In the novice group are people who might have an idea of what autism is, but have difficulty defining it. They may also not realize that the symptoms of the disorder may range from mild to severe, depending on the individual and may feel uncomfortable around someone with ASD.
Those in the intermediate group already know about the basics of ASD and the issues surrounding the disorder (vaccines, a lack of opportunities for adults, stress and special-needs parenting, etc.). They may have read a massive amount of literature about autism, but do not have much experience in relating to people on the spectrum (other than a relative with ASD). In other words, they don't quite qualify as "experts" yet.
I figure those with advanced knowledge are the ones who have written books (academic style, not personal experience style) and can conduct trainings such as START. They most likely have taken university-level courses on the topic or have had extensive training in conferences. Most importantly, they may have worked with people on the spectrum on a regular basis in either a volunteer or professional capacity.
As for me, I am part of the parent group whose members could fall into any of the three levels mentioned. Although I have a son (age 11) with autism and have blogged about this topic for two years now, I feel like I still have a lot to learn. I certainly do not feel like I'm at the advanced level, though I've been competent at defining ASD and identifying the issues surrounding it for awhile now.
I find that with autism, there is always something more to learn. I'm definitely looking forward to finding more about autism and how to reach individuals on the spectrum. The next two modules (3 and 4) are about Behavior and Peers respectively.
As far as behavior goes, I know a little bit on how to help my son avoid unacceptable behaviors that will hinder his ability to succeed in the world. However, I am looking forward to what the presenters have to say on the topic. As far as peers go, one of my particular weak spots is talking to children about autism spectrum disorder. I'm hoping that after the two training sessions about peers (Module 4) in January, I will be much more adept at this skill.
So far, I'm pleased with START. The trainers approach their topics in a positive manner. So far the group of presenters from START regard the potential of people with autism positively while also using a straightforward, but positive approach in encouraging everyone attending to learn what they can--regardless of the what level one is at.
Note: This is just one post from Module 1. I'll probably post one or more related to the topics covered before moving on to Module 2 (Educational Strategies). In the near future, I'll be publishing posts about autism, teamwork, and positive thinking.