By bobb | Fri, 10/2/2023 - 15:31
Richmond Primary School's autism inclusion teacher Rob Oien in the classroom. (ABC News: Leah MacLennan)

Leah MacLennan

South Australian primary schools will now have specialist autism inclusion teachers, with more than 400 starting in the roles in the first week back from holidays.

Key points:

  • More than 400 specialist autism inclusion teachers have been rolled out across SA
  • The SA government says that, on average, there is at least one student with autism in every classroom
  • One of those involved said it was not about working directly with students but "building capacity" to improve outcomes

Premier Peter Malinauskas said the aim of the newly created roles was to increase the skills of the state's 18,000 teachers.

"In every classroom there is at least one child who is autistic — at least one," Mr Malinauskas said.

"Some classrooms have two or three children that are autistic.

"The challenge here is to bring those 18,000 teachers up to speed with the most modern practices around assisting a child who is autistic."

Richmond Primary School teacher Rob Oien is one of the 417 new autism inclusion teachers.

He said the role is not designed to work directly with students with autism.

"My role will be more to do with dealing with my colleagues, supporting my colleagues, looking at best practice rather than myself being in the classroom interacting with those students," he said.

"It's about building our capacity as a school."

The teachers will have up to one day a week in the autism inclusion role and will continue as regular classroom teachers for the rest of the week.

'We don't know what the future looks like'

Assistant Minister for Autism Emily Bourke said one day a week was the starting point.

"Today is the first day of our autism inclusion teachers," she said.

"If we didn't start here, if we didn't finally give in and start providing some support, we would be having this conversation still in 10 years' time.

"We have to start somewhere and if we don't make that start, we don't know what the future looks like."

Emily Bourke, standing against a white and black wall with a big smile.
Assistant minister for autism, Emily Bourke, says the move is about improving schools now and into the future.(Supplied: Emily Bourke)

Training for the new positions has just begun, and will be done through webinars and face-to-face sessions.

Parents of children with autism have welcomed the move.

Sarah Keane said teachers generally want to do everything they can for students, but it is not always possible.

"Their heart's in the right place, they want to see your kids grow," she said.

"They're responsible for a whole class, so it is hard."

Ms Keane said each child with autism is different and has different needs, and she is hopeful further training will help teachers adapt.

"Having time to process things, being put on the spot, ways assessments are done, so you know if an oral presentation is done and your child's really struggling with confidence and speaking up-front — that can be a barrier to how you assess a child," she said.