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School Resource Pack Review: Spectrum of Opinion - Genes, Autism and Psychological Spectrum Disorders

3 May 2011
By Ata Anane
Secondary school teacher
Appeared in BioNews 605

Autism spectrum disorders are rarely out of the headlines. Take, for example, reports of last year's 'breakthrough' in the diagnosis of autism and the infamous research of Andrew Wakefield.

The School Resource Pack created as part of the Progress Educational Trust (PET)'s project Spectrum of Opinion: Genes, Autism and Psychological Spectrum Disorders brings this public and medical debate into the classroom and makes it suitable for students over 16 years of age. By raising questions and stimulating thinking, the pack improves the quality of education about genetics and autism spectrum disorders.

The pack contains ten articles by academics and other authors, which delve into the genetic, social and medical aspects of spectrum disorders.

Many of these authors spoke at two events organised by PET as part of the Spectrum of Opinion project - From Autism to Asperger's: Disentangling the Genetics and Sociology of the Autism Spectrum in 2009, and Marked for Life: Are Genetic Markers Helpful in Understanding Psychological Disorders? in 2010.

The resource pack is well suited for use as a teaching tool. For example, key questions at the end of each article can encourage class discussion. Teaching study skills is key to improving students' knowledge of science (1). The pack encourages students to learn while reading with a glossary of terms, by highlighting key words in each article.

The resource pack is not a purely scientific source and is suited to students studying sociology, religious studies and government/politics and science. The sociology, science and medicine behind autism spectrum disorders are explained, including the links between autism and other genetic conditions.

The fourth article in the resource pack, authored by Dr Elisabeth Hill, could generate debate among politics and sociology students about the impact of the economic downturn on high-functioning autistic adults. The article discusses the employment difficulties they face.

This resource pack is sure to generate deep and insightful commentaries and debate from teachers and students alike. I only have two criticisms. There are no articles from a research scientist about the genetic basis of spectrum disorders. Moreover, disability issues like support in education and access to tax credits could have been discussed.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
1) Tuckey, S, and Anderson, C.  Literacy in Science: Using agency in the material world to expand the conversation
Chapter 7 in 'Meeting the challenge of adolescent literacy' by Conley, M, Freidhoff, J, Sherry, M, and Tuckey, Steven (editors). The Guilford Press, New York |  2008
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