Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is no longer considered a rare condition, as it affects 1 in 100 individuals in Europe (Baird et al., 2000) and 1 in 68 in the US (CDC, 2014). We know now that levels of cognitive functioning of individuals with ASD cover the whole range, from intellectual disability (ID) to high functioning. The recommended approach for ASD focuses on behavioural interventions as well as social and educational services that help the individual obtains independence and autonomy.
Similarly, all the four partner countries (Romania, Poland, Italy, the Netherlands) have their own policies stating that equal possibilities in accessing education, should be available for all children. In this context, the countries experience an ever increasing number of children with ASD who are enrolled in mainstream education and whose needs should be addressed by a system that is not prepared to serve them.
In the Netherlands teachers in mainstream education report difficulties in managing children with ASD in a regular classroom (Van der Meer, 2016) and report lacking specific knowledge and skills to do that (Gispen et al., 2013; Walraven et al., 2013; Algemene Rekenkamer, 2013).
A survey conducted among 63 teachers in primary school revealed that 29% of teachers felt a lack of specific knowledge and skills in teaching children with ASD. 50 % of the teachers reported lack of skills in making an individual educational tailored plan. 35 % had difficulties in adjusting the curriculum for ASD 35 % of the teachers had not participated in training for ASD. Another study indicates that almost half of the teachers report having difficulties when observing the child’s behavior, while 40% say they have a hard time accepting parents as experts with regards to the needs of their autistic child.
Several studies conducted in Romania (RAA, 2011; Mares G. si Toth A., 2015, Toth A., 2016) pointed at factors limiting school integration of children with ASD: teachers’ low competencies in working with ASD students; schools having limited resources to train staff, provide teaching adaptation tools and provide educational support services; discrimination, still present in schools and communities. A recent study conducted on 147 teachers from 16 schools in Romania (RAA, November 2016) shows that 34% of the respondents have not attended any training in the last 2 years, 97,95 % have children with educational needs including ASD in their class, 77,5% consider that they do not possess enough information and knowledge in order to deal with children with educational needs (including ASD).
Despite a long history of organizing special and inclusive education, Italy just recently started to move from the psychoanalititical approach towards ASD, to one acknowledging ASD as a neurodevelopmental disorder, needing behavioural and educational interventions (Censis Institute, 2012). In this context, there is an unequal distribution in schools across Italy of resources (funds, staff) supporting evidence-based behavioural approaches towards ASD (Vivantti & Vivantti, 2015).
In Poland, the “Program of development of education in Warsaw in 2013-2020,” mentions that over the last few years, the number of decisions on special education and special needs students has increased. As in Romania, in Poland teenagers and adults with autism do not have access to lifelong learning, or transitional programs from school to independent living (SYNAPSIS Foundation report, 2013).