This is a post I wrote for Kent-teach for Autism Awareness month. Autism awareness is an essential concept with ever increasing need for us all to seek a greater understanding of what it means to be autistic. However it must be more than holding an assembly, or watching a video. We must make real and ongoing adaptations to ensure our learning environments and school communities are as inclusive as possible. This post is from my point of view. Hadley has written an excellent post on her experiences as an Autistic student on her blog.
Don’t define me
We must endeavor to find out what being autistic means to the children we work with. It will be different for every child. All the children I work with have a diagnosis of Autism and no one statement or definition adequately describes what this really means to them. When it comes to any special educational need teachers need to see themselves as learners, they need to look beyond the stereotypes and autism myths.
We should all acknowledge there is no way we can fully understand how living in a world that some of our students perceive so differently feels. The national autistic society has created a video that gives an insight to how some autistic people may interpret the everyday activities we take for granted.
I have one request and that is please do not ever say “Everyone is on the spectrum somewhere.” or “we are all a bit autistic.”. Being a bit uncomfortable in social situations, or liking your pens lined up does not make you autistic. Saying this trivializes a condition that will have a lifelong impact on the child’s interactions with the world.
It is only with deep knowledge of an individual child that we can begin formulate the adaptations that we can make to our classrooms. However there are certain things that we can all do to ensure all learners are able to learn in our schools.
- Preparation prior to the student entering the class is essential. The first impressions should be as positive as possible.
- Form a parent-teacher alliance that is a constant dialogue to find out everything you can about what that child likes, and particularly what they don’t like. Remember these are often not just dislikes but things that can be physically uncomfortable or even painful.
- Check the statement or EHCP what are the specific areas of need or barriers to learning that the child faces. What are you going to plan to do to support them to overcome or mitigate these?
- Assess how the child is responding to the day to day routine. Talk to the student throughout their time with you, how are they feeling? How are they interpreting life in your classroom?
- What coping strategies will the child need if things become overwhelming? Time out or break out space is not where a child should spend the majority of their learning time. This can lead to isolation and a feeling of difference.
- Ensure the child is not constantly facing sanctions, if this is happening review how your behaviour policy is applied to those with SEN.
Awareness of autism is a responsibility for all teachers. Each child is unique so don’t expect to get it right first time or for everyday to be the same. Attempt to empathise, do your best to understand and enjoy the opportunity to make a real difference to a child’s life.