With World Autism Awareness Day an April highlight, Amanda Buckley, Head of Inclusion at Kings’ School Nad Al Sheba, shares some insight into Autism Spectrum Disorder and debunks the myths surrounding education and ASD
12 April 2018| Last updated on 12 April 2018
A highly inclusive school at all levels, Kings’ School Nad Al Sheba has a number of children who are on the autism spectrum across the school, all of whom are all able to access the support needed to enable them to make progress across the curriculum.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder which is more common in boys than girls. It is characterised by difficulties in social communication, interaction and by repetitive patterns of behaviour.
Children who are on the Autism Spectrum often have sensory difficulties that impact upon their daily lives. They may experience sensory overload due to the difficulties they experience processing sensory information in the world around them; this can cause stress, anxiety and even physical pain.
From a school perspective, it is vital to be aware of the sensory needs of children on the Autism Spectrum as they may find certain things overwhelming, such as using musical instruments within the classroom. In children with ASD, the presentation can be noticeable from as young as three years old, which is why early intervention is key.
One of the biggest myths about having a child with ASD in a mainstream classroom is that ‘he or she may have a diagnosis on the Autism Spectrum, but gets good grades and, therefore, should not qualify for any special provision.’
Children on the autism spectrum are often very intelligent and make good progress in their learning. Although they may not need support grasping academic concepts, this does not mean that they don’t need additional support in other areas.
For example, we have children on the autism spectrum who do not need support in their classroom learning but they do need to access social skills interventions and occupational therapy due to the fact that they may struggle to make friends, or they need support with their sensory processing skills.
Inclusion can benefit both pupils with special educational needs such as ASD and society as a whole. When properly supported, children with ASD can thrive in mainstream settings because it provides them with appropriate peer interaction and a multitude of opportunities to practise their social skills. It teaches children to accept everybody as a friend, irrelevant of whether or not they have a special educational need.
In an inclusive school, there are lots of opportunities to be friends with a wide range of children. Around 25 percent of people on the Autism Spectrum are considered nonverbal and may communicate in other ways such as with picture cards; please don’t assume that because they have difficulties in communicating that they don’t value your friendship.
It is also important to be patient, speak literally and, when you ask a question, allow your friend to have some thinking time before answering. Another important piece of advice is to recognise and appreciate their interests; people on the autism spectrum are often very passionate and knowledgeable about their interests and will enjoy talking about these.
Planning For Success
The school environment could potentially be a difficult place for a child with ASD, therefore it is incredibly important that the environment and provision is well planned.
Here are some tips on creating a positive school environment for pupils with ASD:
- Provide breakout spaces where children can go to let off steam
- Provide some calm spaces such as a garden area or wellbeing room where they are able to feel calm and anxiety-free
- Invite specialists into school to work with the children and classroom teachers such as speech and language therapists, educational psychologists and occupational therapists
- Offer different seating options within a classroom. Allow a child with ASD to choose whether they would prefer to sit at a table with their peers or at an independent workstation to avoid sensory overload
- Use a visual timetable within the classroom so that all children (not just those with ASD) know the structure of the day
- Provide opportunities to support with social skills, model social skills within small groups
- Ensure there are regular meetings with parents, teachers and external agencies to provide a collaborative approach to support