Special needs school to help Cambridge professor understand autism impact

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Special needs school to help Cambridge professor understand autism impact

Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen to work with Gesher School to study factors stopping autistic youngsters from progressing

Gesher school teaches children with a range of special needs
Gesher school teaches children with a range of special needs

A new Jewish special needs school is to help a Jewish professor from the University of Cambridge understand whether autistic students are less likely to enter further education or employment.

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, whose cousin Sacha recently posed as an Israeli firearms fanatic to satirise America’s gun lobby, is leading the work at the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge, with funding from law firm Mishcon de Reya.

Researchers will be working with newly-opened Gesher School, which provides a specialist learning environment for autistic children, to better understand what factors stop autistic students from gaining a job or further qualifications.

The Cambridge team has already shown that two thirds of autistic adults experience anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts and feelings, and it is already known that social communication difficulties make children on the autistic spectrum particularly vulnerable to negative life experiences, both at home and at school. Many report being bullied, excluded, exploited, and feeling marginalised.

Researchers now plan to use online surveys and focus groups to capture parents’ experiences, with a view to producing policy guidelines based on their findings.

Outcomes for autistic students will be compared to those with different categories of special educational needs, such as Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Conduct Disorder and Dyslexia.

Sarah Sultman and Ali Durban, who co-founded Gesher School in September, said: “Collaborations between funders like these help bring about social change on many levels. Early intervention is critical for autistic children and this research will give an insight into how schools can best help.”

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