We have just admitted a pupil with autism. I have never taught an autistic child before and I'm struggling to get the advice and support I need. What should I do?
I am surprised that no advice or support is being offered to you. Autism is now widely recognised and would seem to be on the increase. All schools should be prepared to support pupils they admit who are on the autistic spectrum and this includes providing the support and training for teachers working with them.
Autism is not one single complaint that appears as a clear set of symptoms. Every autistic child is different and the way you work with them must reflect this. However, there are some general pieces of advice that might help you.
Autistic children can find communicating their feelings and understanding those of others particularly difficult. You should try and build into your lessons opportunities to talk about feelings and link them with physical cues if possible. Be prepared to give extra explanations for why things happen the way they do and why someone has reacted they way they have. These links and signs might be obvious to you and your class but not to your autistic child.
Be clear and concise with your instructions and have an agreed behaviour plan that is understood and adhered to. The plan should include information about any particular triggers there might be and have a progressive arrangement of sanctions and rewards.
Some autistic children benefit from the use of sign language or symbols. Certainly presenting your lessons with a visual learning style in mind will help. Sometimes autistic children can find it difficult to apply what they’ve learnt to a new context (a difficulty that is shared by all children of course!). To help with this you might provide additional opportunities to learn language skills discretely at another time.
These are some very broad pointers. You will find more information in some of the article and websites linked to below. However, I do think you should express your concerns to someone on the senior leadership team. Your SENCo should be able to point you in the right direction at the very least. It is certainly perfectly reasonable for you to ask to be given some specific training. If there is no one within your own school who has knowledge of or expertise in working with autistic children there might be colleagues in a neighbouring school who do. There might be information available from your LA or other local provider.
It’s also important that you make links with parents. The parents of your autistic child know him/ her better than anyone. Establish some method of liaising with one another either through a book or over the phone on at least a weekly basis. During the first couple of weeks you might want to have a quick chat every day. I know this might seem like a large commitment but if you can get it right in the early stages then it will make an enormous difference to the rest of the year.
I don’t want to give you more work to do, but other staff in the school should also be made aware of the needs of this particular child. Lunchtime staff, teaching assistants, office staff and supply will all need to have access to the strategies you develop and be aware of the support that is needed. Hopefully, your school already has a procedure for sharing this information.
You should be aware if you have a particular interest in autism that the SEN Green Paper proposes increasing links between schools and the Autism Trust. In addition, it is proposed that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence should publish guidance on the recognition, referral and diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder. This won’t help you at the moment but for colleagues in the future more training, including online training, should be more immediately accessible.
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