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Why Autism is on the Rise

By: Ronda Payne

Published On: June 3, 2020

It is said that when you meet one person with Autism, you have met one person with Autism. Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by impaired social interaction, difficulties with verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted or repetitive behaviours. These characteristics will range from mild to moderate to profound/severe. Regardless of how it presents, students will require different levels of support from educational assistants.

The need for those who have taken teaching assistant courses has grown over the last few years and for a wide range of reasons. According to Autism BC, as of  2018, 1 in 51 children aged 6 to 18 have been identified as having ASD. In Canada, ASD is 4.5 times more common in boys (1 in 42) than in girls (1 in 189). There are many reasons and theories why this is so. More research is being done to understand how boys and girls present differently and how treatments need to be more specific for girls.

Why is Autism Increasing in Prevalence?

Research is ongoing and making great strides in our understanding of Autism. In the Diagnostic Statistical Manual 5th Edition (DSM-5) (used by professionals for diagnosis), Autism Spectrum Disorder has been updated with clearer diagnostic criteria which allows children to receive earlier intervention to reach their full abilities. It has also allowed some children to receive a diagnosis where they may not have met the criteria before. Education assistants who have the in-depth training required are better equipped to work with students with Autism.

There is still an opinion that the number of individuals with autism are rising outside of the increase due to the improvement in diagnosis. Therefore, the belief that the number of individuals with autism is increasing hasn’t been ruled out nor has it been confirmed. The ultimate point is that there are more diagnosed cases in Canada per capita than there were previously whether that is due to better diagnosing, an overall increase in cases or both.  

The Increasing Need for Education Assistants

Education Assistants are needed more than ever to work with students with ASD as well as other students who need assistance. With this increasing need, education assistants who have taken an education assistant course  are sought after. Among those programs available at Ashton College is the Education Assistant diploma program, now offered online through Ashton College’s Live Online platform. With the education assistant courses being made available online, students don’t have to wait to work towards becoming an education assistant. They can begin the work that will lead to their future career now – even during a pandemic. Schools will look different for the next two years and Educational Assistants will need to be prepared to support students emotionally and mentally. Our program will ensure students are ready for that change.

One element that makes the course from Ashton so popular is the five-week course focus on Autism. When a student is looking for teaching assistant courses, they should identify those that have a broad range of core focal points that include autism. Potential students will want to ensure they are taught to not only understand Autism, but the strengths and deficits each child will have and how to use a child’s strengths, the various supports utilizing evidence-based practices and why they are used and how to use them correctly.  With differences between boys and girls, Educational Assistants need to understand Autism from different perspectives. Boys may differ in the characteristics that we see in girls, so being able to recognize those differences and signs is key. Therefore a course that lasts just a few days or a few weeks will not be detailed enough. As an educational assistant you will need more than a basic knowledge to be a strong support. Ashton College students will also have a further 6 weeks of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), which is an evidence-based approach for students with ASD. Our graduates have become valuable members of school based teams because of their knowledge base and confidence in what they have learned in our program.

 Your investment in training to be an educational assistant will pay huge dividends to the students you will work with. Many EA graduates have said that their most meaningful moments and relationships with students on the spectrum have been life-changing for them. Join us now, a child waits for you.

Earlier Diagnosis

The medical community believes that diagnosing autism spectrum disorder as early as possible is key to creating better outcomes for autistic individuals and their families. While the number of diagnoses has gone up, the age the majority of children are diagnosed at, has not changed. It still sits at about 4 ½ years old in the United States and 5 years old in Canada. This has led experts to think that many children could still be diagnosed sooner as that age has not dropped with the improvement in assessment and diagnosing tools. 

Unfortunately, services for families are not consistent across the country, therefore in some cases a family may have to wait years to receive a diagnosis which delays the benefits of the various kinds of therapy. Many experts believe that these therapies have an optimal time frame and if the individual doesn’t receive the therapy early in their life, the benefits could be minimized. 

Unfortunately, this has led many families to move from their hometowns to regions where diagnosis and support are more widely available. Some have turned to crowd-sourcing as a method of fundraising for their needs and others get involved in the non-governmental organisations that help families facing autism. 

An Increasing Need for Answers

Diagnosis is complex. There is no stock scientific test (like a blood test or MRI) to make a diagnosis of autism. Instead, the outcome is decided by observing behaviours and following a number of diagnostic tools and standardized criteria. It’s important for families to be clear with pediatricians about any ongoing behaviours and deficits that may align with someone on the spectrum. 

An education assistant can help families who are within the autism community. By understanding the condition and getting to know the individuals they work with, they will have a strong ability to connect with students who have autism and other conditions.  

Read our other blog: Nicole Erakovic: “I could help children achieve various milestones and overcome challenges in their lives”.


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