Gareth D Morewood blogged here for two years, 2008-2010. Gareth's first eBook, The Role of the SENCO: An Insider's Guide, is now available from the Optimus Education shop.
A recent TES article on exclusion focused specifically on students with needs on the autistic spectrum; an area with which I have become particularly familiar through our school’s revolutionary project in supporting students with ASC (autistic spectrum conditions) in a mainstream setting. The Autism Bill aims to tackle the ‘lack of information about children and young people with autism and the failure of councils to take account of their needs in service-planning’.
I have worked hard over the past two years to increase awareness of ASC both within my school and farther afield, but despite taking a resolute and consistent approach there is still a lot of work to be done.
It is hard work including young people on the autistic spectrum in mainstream schools, but it can be done — as long as you are sensitive and aware of the issues. For example, on occasion things can be 'too much' for some students. At Christmas, with pantomines and excitement in abundance, it is better not to try and force students with spectrum needs to ‘fit into the mould’ of the chaotic, feverish end of term. This reminds me of the medical model of disability — you cannot ‘fix’ an autistic student’s perceptions and understanding of things, you can only support them and their peers, train staff and parents/carers, and minimise unnecessary risks and situations. This takes time and energy and, of course, a real passion for inclusion.
The Bill is increasing governmental funding for the Autism Education Trust from £320 000 to £500 000, but simply adding money is not the key — there is a need for constant supervision, training, sensitive educating and a slice of realism, and the requirement for these never ends. I know that including students with autism is hard work — but inclusion in schools can only increase a wider awareness of this issues, thereby reducing the everyday marginalisation of this vulnerable group of young people.