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The state of education on autism spectrum disorders at universities

Over the past two decades, autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, has become a more common diagnosis among children worldwide, and represents a diagnosis that transcends racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic differences.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in 44 children will be diagnosed with ASD in 2022, compared to 150 in 2000. For parents, educators, and communities, this means many more children in the classroom who have been diagnosed with special needs and need specialized help. "Teachers and aides may need to help these students process the material differently so they can learn it better, or they may need to help students manage their emotions or learn social skills to better interact with their peers and the world around them," emphasizes Dr Vladimir Trajkovski, professor at the Faculty of Philosophy in Skopje. He is the president and one of the founders of the Macedonian Scientific Society for Autism. 

The increasing incidence of ASD, and the increased awareness of what students with ASD need to succeed in the classroom, has created a demand for teachers and professionals specifically trained to work with children with autism. "Understanding what autism is, what to expect, and how to communicate with individuals who have this lifelong developmental disorder can be an essential aspect of the work of the school psychologist, special education teacher, speech-language teacher, occupational therapist, principal, doctor, physical therapist,  behavior specialist, and many others," points out Dr Trajkovski. 

Fred Volkmar, professor of child psychiatry, pediatrics, and psychology at Yale University, considered an international authority in the field of Asperger's disorder and autism, also spoke about the complex needs of students with autism: "Developmental disorders include a range of problems. We used to call them mental retardation, but today we call it an intellectual disability, one of the most common developmental disorders."

This topic was discussed at the 11th Annual Conference of Europe’s Sciences and Arts Leaders and Scholars. The experts also touched upon the need for the education of specialists in treating autism disorders. "Southeastern European countries do not have autism education like Western countries. There is a lack of knowledge of autism experts. Autism should also be introduced as a compulsory subject at the first level of study in the curricula of the departments of defectology, rehabilitation, pedagogy, psychology, and pedagogical faculties. As well as introducing the optional subject of autism at the first and second level of study at medical faculties and for additional training for medical, special education, teaching, and other professional staff working in autism centers and educational institutions”, emphasizes Dr Trajkovski.