World Autism Day
Tomorrow is World Autism Awareness Day. Check out The National Autistic Societies page here for next years date here. The National Autistic Society states, on their website, around 700,000 people in the UK are on the autistic spectrum. In my experience, having worked as a primary school teacher and SENCo, I believe the actual number to be much higher; I think this is largely down to the difficulties in getting a diagnosis (I’ll leave that rant for another time).
Generally I found that at least 10% of the students in my classes have had difficulties for which there is either a diagnosis of autism or autism is strongly suspected by parents, myself and/ or other professionals.
The Rights of the Child
Around 10% of the population are dyslexic and as a teacher the schools, local authorities and universities that I have worked with have all had a dyslexic friendly classroom expectation. This is where you make modifications for the whole class to support those individuals who may need it. For example – using a dyslexic friendly font for the whole class to support all children who are diagnosed with dyslexia, but also children who haven’t. I strongly believe that this should be the case for autism and that all classrooms should be autistic friendly classrooms.
Autism is a spectrum and often it is only children and adults who have severe difficulties who get a diagnosis (again I’ll leave that rant for another day). There are lots of children who are somewhere else along this spectrum who find day to day activities tricky and for whom small changes in the way a classroom is laid out and run can really help to reduce their anxiety and make school a happier, more productive place to play and learn. This should be a right for all children.
Take Action – Make Your Classroom Autism Friendly
For a lot of teachers their classrooms are already autism friendly classrooms. Here is my checklist to help all classrooms become autism friendly classrooms.
Autistic Friendly Classroom Checklist
- A visual timetable clearly displayed and kept up to date throughout the day with any changes.
- Simple class expectations – not too wordy preferably with visuals.
- A quiet, calm, soft space to go if anxious, worried or need to calm down – consider some sort of signal a child can use to let you know what they plan to do.
- Use the words now and next to help children anticipate what will happen after.
- Egg timers, I prefer large, real ones but most interactive boards have digital ones too. These help children to anticipate when an activity will be finishing.
- Displays well kept, simple and tidy.
- Resources clearly labelled with words and pictures.
- Keep boards clear so that children can focus on their learning.
- Always give processing time when giving instructions and asking questions.
- When appropriate use visual resources to support concepts you are teaching.
- Keep rewards and sanctions separate and ensure that their use is clear and consistent.
You can’t plan for everything and sometimes things are going to happen at short notice. For example a visitor turns up to your classroom you weren’t expecting or the fire alarm goes off. For these events I always have a visual question mark close to hand with the word surprise . At these times I hold up the surprise question mark to show that there’s a change. For children on the autistic spectrum I’ve found this really helps them to understand that a change has happened, but it’s OK because my teacher is aware and is going to help me.
If you are planning a class surprise, maybe the start of an exciting new topic, visitor or end of term treat then I always find it best to prepare children. Some children in my classes have been fine with me putting up the surprise question mark on the timetable so that they are prepared for something different. Others I’ve found better to be involved and help you prepare the surprise for others. That way they know exactly what will happen. You know your children.
Don’t forget that every child is unique and that there will still be lots more that you will need to do to support a child with autism in your class, for me, this is just the basics.
Student teachers have you checked out 10 Ways to Survive your PGCE Placement? Link here.