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.

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% of all pupils - have been identified as having some need for additional support - a total which has increased by 153% 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."

Scottish Greens' education spokesman Ross Greer said afterwards: "The current system is failing thousands of young people with additional support needs (ASN) and almost every issue comes back to budget cuts.

"It's shocking to hear that one member of staff working with young persons with Asperger syndrome was told to watch comedy programme the Big Bang Theory in order to understand the condition."

While the number of pupils with ASN has increased since 2010, the Green MSP said one in seven ASN teaching posts has been cut since then.

"Better ASN provision is one of the best ways we can close the attainment gap and ensure all children get the best possible education," he argued.

"The Scottish Government needs to recognise the problem, listen to the young people, parents, teachers, unions and experts telling them something is wrong and work to improve teacher training, reduce workload, reverse years of cuts to councils and attract more people into this essential profession."

Scottish Labour education spokesman Daniel Johnson said: "This is jaw-dropping. Watching a sitcom is no substitute for proper training for teachers.

"More broadly, the evidence we've received on additional support for learning (ASL) leaves me far from convinced that teachers are being properly supported. Against a backdrop of an increasing number of ASL students, we've seen massive cuts to teacher numbers and support staff.

"That only strengthens the case for rigorous, comprehensive training for teachers and support staff - not instructions to watch TV."

Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: "I think many parents and teachers will be shocked by this.

"No doubt it was one specific incident to which Ms Haughney was referring but it was an example of the deep-seated concerns amongst professionals about the level of support available.

"Many in the sector believe there is inadequate training to support all those teachers and support staff in our schools who are expected to deal with the very complex needs of many of our more vulnerable children."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "In order to support schools to meet the needs of their pupils who have autism, the Scottish Government has supported the development and publication of the 'Autism Toolbox'.

"This helps teachers and educational support staff meet the needs of pupils with autism, as well as providing a forum for identifying and continually updating and sharing best practice.

"We want all children and young people to receive the support that they need to achieve their full learning potential.

"Education authorities have duties to identify, provide for and to review the additional support needs under the Additional Support for Learning Act, including those arising from autism."