In response to the significant prevalence of rate of school aged children and youths with disabilities requiring special education during primary and secondary school, Zamarr Institute organised a free workshop for teachers in schools in and around the Abuja metropolis. The aim was to promote awareness and understanding of autism and related learning disabilities in schools which we hope would in turn improve access to inclusive education for pupils with special needs in schools.
Over 40 schools were contacted including crèches and day-care centres for the workshop and each school was required to send in one participant. The programme had 25 teachers in attendance and started at 9.30am with registration and introduction of participants. The first presentation on effective communication was done by Mrs Ola – a regional trainer with the U.K National Health Service. She started with the importance of communicating effectively with children with autism and related disabilities. Participants were then asked to get into groups and list common signs that can be seen in children with autism, ADHD or other similar disorders. From their responses, it was clear that most of the participants face some of these challenges in their classrooms. The facilitator then moved on to social skills and relationships. At this point, participants were again asked what they considered proper social skills. Finally, she introduced the Makaton language programme which uses signs and symbols with speech for communication with very young children or children without speech. After tea break, participants were taught the letters A to Z in Makaton as well as some basic words like ‘hello’, ‘please’, ‘drink’, ‘eat’ e.t.c. She recommended some TV programmes and CDs that use Makaton and as example, showed some short clips. She concluded by explaining that intensive training in each of the three areas she touched on take at least three days.
The second presentation on Autism Spectrum Disorders was done by Mrs Ronke Katagum – Executive Director of Zamarr Institute. She started with a classic definition of autism and went on to the history of autism diagnosis as well as the other disorders that fall under the spectrum. She addressed common autism myths, the triad of impairments associated with autism and pointed out the ‘red flags’ in each area. The idea being to help teachers identify students with learning challenges as distinct from children with autism. She then went to talk about the different interventions including diet, medication and various therapies as well as their downsides and benefits. She concluded by pointing out strategies that can be employed in classrooms to assist their students with varying challenges.
The programme ended at 3pm with a Question & Answer session, workshop evaluation and lunch.