The National Autistic Society (NAS) describes autism as ‘a lifelong developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around them’. Affecting individuals with different levels of severity, Autism is a spectrum condition, at the base of autism spectrum disorders are associated with learning disabilities; whereas at the top lie disabilities such as Asperger’s Syndrome.
According to NAS 44% of schools which identified children with ASD, say that significant number are not getting the specialist support needed. 5% of those responding felt that support was not forthcoming because of problems or delays with diagnosis or statementing. 30% of responders mentioned insufficient resources, both human and financial. 47% of those responding would like to see training and advice provided by or through the Local Education Authority (LEA). Below are some statements made by teachers in Primary schools when talking about shortcomings in inclusion of ASD children. ‘Although the child has been with us for three years, we have not yet managed to get an educational Psychologist to see the child. (LEA Mainstream Primary)
‘Funding inclusion is not a cheap option but seems increasingly to be used as such. A child with autism is autistic all day, not just for 18 hours per week. ’ (LEA Mainstream Primary) (Barnard, J et al 2002) Everyone within this spectrum suffer from problems communicating, social interaction and thinking and behaviour flexibility. Some are very sensitive to their environment, loud noise, vivid colours, busy visual stimuli or strong odours cause them stress and physical discomfort.
Giving this child a conducive learning environment by minimizing distractions is key. It is most important to remind ourselves every child with ASD is unique and will respond in different ways. It is vital that children with ASD are not expected to fit into existing classrooms and school structures. SENCOs should also consider enhancing sensory awareness (for instance tuning the sounds from the projectors), they need to consider flexible solutions in order to be inclusive.
Training all staff and promote inclusion and awareness by delivering whole school assemblies would be essential. Rewards and sanctions should be based on realistic, achievable targets, and rewards need to be as immediate as possible (www. autism. org. uk-NAS, ATL 2012). Social stories are used a great deal with Autistic children to develop skills in social situations and to address behaviours to keep them safe. Autistic children often like routine and dislike changes to routine, widgits can be useful for things like visual timetables.
I have used Communication in Print, a software package incorporating widgits,; typing in a word and it prints both the word and a symbol associated with the word; designed for children who can’t read but works great for very visual learners too ( http://www. widgit. com/about/index. htm). A coordinated team approach and parental involvement are important, if there is disruption to routine or medication at home and teacher is unaware it becomes difficult. Many of these children will have a daily communication diary in place well after most kids have ceased to need them.
Good communication with parents means that they can support the work of the school effectively and feel reassured that good provision is made for their child. Rarely children with autism can follow timetable of a school week, so SENCOs need to create supportive time slots to help ease the build-up of pressure each day. Children with autism find communicating difficult; they may have good conversational skills, but their comprehension may be poor. They may misinterpret or ignore humour, irony and sarcasm, have difficulty with new vocabulary, and can often struggle to indicate that they have not understood something.
Specialist support can help with developing and practising skills, can be a designated member of support staff under the guidance of a speech and language therapist. However, it should be timetabled and regular (ideally daily), with visual support and regular opportunities to practice strategies and skills. Teachers need to celebrate that children on autism spectrum tend to come with exceptional memory displaying persistence in certain topics, they adhere to routine and order.
Parents and carers can experience very difficult times at home, supporting them with visual aids for home and school routines, as mentioned above, helps to reduce anxiety and stress. Involve them in the drawing up of Individual Education Plans (IEP) drawing from them if they have any strategies that works and might usefully transfer to the school situation. (MOREWOOD, G. & DREWS, D. 2013). Mainstream schools need to make adjustments to support areas of physical, social, environmental needs. This is where school support comes in, establishing a buddy system of support can be valuable.
Roles can include peer support in lessons, providing company during lunch and break times; buddies can provide great support (NAS) Children need to be given private space, reducing emotional dips and fluctuations through interventions or nurture rooms, would ease the tension and despair. Within the school setting SENCOs are the backbone to a child with ASD, they are the link between this child and the rest of the school. Mainstream schooling can be successful for these children only with a whole school awareness, acceptance and adaptation.
SENCOs ensures staff are aware and understand difficulties children with ASD face; a key worker is assigned for these children; they will be the main support for these children in school liaising with parents. To be that inclusive school regular staff training and opportunities for teachers and TAs to seek advice and guidance through the SENCO is vital. However to keep placing ASD children in mainstream classrooms without adequate support lands unfair pressure on teachers. For the child in focus it will be integration without and social inclusion, leading to bad behaviours and exclusion from school in the worst cases.