Teacher told to watch American sitcom to know Asperger’s

Big Bang Theory's character Sheldon  Cooper (centre) has Asperger Syndrome
Big Bang Theory's character Sheldon Cooper (centre) has Asperger Syndrome
Share this article
Have your say

Watching The Big Bang Theory was suggested as a training method for a school staff member who was dealing with a child with Asperger syndrome, MSPs have been told.

Sheldon Cooper, one of the central characters in the hit American television show, displays traits of the condition.

Those affected can have communication difficulties and struggle in social situations.

Sylvia Haughey, an additional support for learning instructor and an education officer with the trade union Unison, said when she visited a school, a staff member told her they had been recommended to watch the show.

Keep up to date with all our sport news on The Scotsman’s Sport page on Facebook

She told the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee: “Recently I was in a school and I asked a member of staff who was working specifically with a child with Aspergers ‘what training have you had in Aspergers?’”

The reply she got to this question was “Oh I was told to watch The Big Bang Theory,” she said.

“That’s the level of training we’ve got now in schools.”

Ms Haughey, who has spent 34 years working in the supported learning sector, said staff would previously have been given training from professionals such as psychologists and speech and language therapists.

Across Scotland, more than 170,000 school children - some 24.9 per cent of all pupils - have been identified as having some need for additional support - a total which has increased by 153 per cent since 2010.

This can include youngsters whose first language is not English, as well as pupils with conditions such as autism, dyslexia and speech disorders. Children can also be marked down as needing support if they are suffering from mental health problems or have been affected by bereavement.

Samreen Shah, a teacher who is also head of pastoral care at Bannerman High School in Glasgow, told the committee: “It’s not just autism or dyslexia, what about children who have gone through bereavement, or mental health.

“We just don’t have enough resources and training to deal with this. But we are trying, because that is what teachers want to do.

“I think teachers have been covering these issues, trying their hardest to cover these issues for years.

“I’m a secondary school teacher and I think the issues are lack of training, lack of resources, and again that’s down to obviously budget cuts.”

Colin Crawford, head of inclusion at Glasgow City Council’s education department, said student teachers are only given “fairly superficial training” on dealing with pupils with additional support needs.

But he said the council is “trying to address that”.

He told the MSPs: “I agree that it is challenging in terms of resources, in terms of being able to train all staff at all levels to baseline levels that you would want.

“There are also issues in terms of initial teacher training and the training that is offered at colleges to support staff as well as in terms of upskilling them before they go into the profession.

“So it’s not always down to local authority training once staff are in place, there is a stage before that that needs to be addressed as well

“In terms of teacher training, there is a fairly superficial coverage at college level in terms of additional support needs and no real drill down into individual conditions.”

Jenny Paterson, Director of the National Autistic Society Scotland, said: “This surreal situation is likely to be a one off but it does show the urgent need for more autism training for teachers in Scotland.

“With over 13,000 school-aged children on the autism spectrum in Scotland, every teacher will have autistic students in their class at some point in their career. Yet training for Scottish teachers in special educational needs, and autism in particular, is patchy. And some teachers have received none at all.

“From 2018, autism will be included in the teacher training framework in England and we have been urging the Scottish Government to follow suit. This would mean that every new teacher in Scotland receives autism training before entering the classroom and has the potential to transform the prospects of a generation of autistic students.”