Effective Mathematics Strategies for Pre-School Children with Autism: Hui Fang Huang Su, Leanne Lai and Herminia Janet Rivera Look at Adjusting the Teaching of Mathematics to Cater for Young Students with Autism. They Report on a Project That Helped Students Link Unfamiliar Concepts to What They Already Know. Many of the Ideas Could Be Applied to Teaching Young Mainstream Students

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Introduction

Autism is a neural development disorder which impairs one's ability to socialise, communicate, process sensory information, and those with autism experience restricted interests and repetitive behaviours. These signs all begin before three years of age and the child may have difficulty with organising their responses, with inhibition of repetitive behaviors and interests, and are more likely to have associated leaning difficulties (McConachie & Diggle, 2006). The Centers for Disease Control in the USA (2007) reports that as many as one in every 110 people has autism. In Australia, there has been an increased focus on autism in recent years, to the point of it becoming a Federal election issue. Autism has been portrayed as a crisis, an epidemic, a puzzle, an over-diagnosed condition, a struggle and a financial burden for families, a scientific curiosity, as well as the root of special and extraordinary talents (Annear, 2009). Australia is similar to the rest of the world in terms of the issues it faces in Special Education, specifically with the Autism condition (Forlin, 1999), but it also has its own set of challenges. Each State and Territory has their own jurisdictions and interpretations of the Federal perspective. Under the Australian Constitution, States have responsibility for education. It is clear that no one school can possess all the skills, understanding, and knowledge, nor a complete range of programs and resources to ensure all students achieve to their maximum potential (Forbes, 2007).

Autism education

Many aspects of the autistic child's difficulties start gradually during the first two years of the child's life. Autistic children frequently pose considerable behavioural challenges and they need help to develop early skills in establishing attention, imitation of others, communicating interest and meaning as well as immediate wants, understanding the language of others, getting on with and enjoying the company of other people, tolerating change, and so on. This broad agenda has spawned many approaches to early intervention (McConachie & Diggle, 2006). Early intervention programs are highly associated with positive outcomes and it has been found that some types of intervention appear to reduce the debilitating impact of autism (National Research Council 2001; Hurth, Shaw, Izeman, Whaley & Rogers, 1999). Designing teaching strategies that support the development of young children with autism is a challenge for both teachers and administrators. The National Research Council (2001) noted that research on strategies for teaching mathematics to students with autism is limited. In their study, Brown and Snell (2000) identify mathematics as a key area of academic instruction for students with multiple and severe disabilities, including autism. Butler, Miller, Lee and Pierce (2001) found in their literature review of mathematics instruction that students benefited from interventions emphasising frequent feedback and explicit instruction.

The development of Project MIND--Math Is Not Difficult

In 1988, Hui Fang Huang "Angie" Su, created a unique program utilising innovative strategies and instructional models designed to get all students, including special needs children, and teachers of all ability/grade levels excited about mathematics through mathematics games, stories, poems, songs, arts, puzzles, mental maths activities, and competitions for all children (Su, 2002). Students who were exposed to the MIND strategies, especially at the elementary level, obtained impressive test results (Annenberg, 1999). According to the Annenberg Challenge Report (1999), "low-income schools all participate in Project MIND (Math Is Not Difficult), a pilot program that could become a model for maths instruction throughout the county. Not only teachers but administrators, secretaries, nurses, cafeteria workers, and teacher's aides had all attended 30 hours of training in Project MIND strategies". …