How can SENCOs establish effective support for pupils with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD)? This SENCO Week looks at strategies for when working with children with autism
Their difficulties with social interaction and communication mean that they can struggle to understand and cope with many aspects of school life. As reported in a previous issue, more children are being identified as autistic than ever before.
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’.
Autism is a spectrum condition and affects individuals in different ways, with different degrees of severity. At the lower end of the spectrum, ASDs are often associated with learning disabilities. Children with higher-end disorders, such as Asperger’s Syndrome, tend to have an average or above-average IQ. However, all people with ASDs share difficulties with:
- Social interaction
- Thinking and behaving flexibly
In addition, some children with ASDs are especially sensitive to their environment. Noise, bright colours, strong smells, strip lighting and over-busy visual stimuli can cause stress or even physical pain. Other children can see these pupils as ‘odd’ and fair game for teasing/bullying; teachers need to be on the look-out for this. The NAS report that more than 40% of children with ASD are bullied at school. The figure rises to 59% for children with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Establishing a buddy system of support can be valuable. Talk to the appointed buddies about how to support the child with ASD and encourage them to contribute ideas and share ‘what worked for me’ with others in the group. Roles can include peer support in lessons, noting down homework, reminders about bringing sports kit, providing company during lunch and break times – buddies can provide great support.
Provide regular opportunities for them to meet with you (or a teacher/TA) to discuss issues and think about useful strategies. Emphasise how helpful they are being and how much you appreciate their support.
Some general strategies for teachers
It’s important to remember that every child with ASD is unique and will respond in different ways. If an assistant supports the child, teachers should find out from them exactly which conditions are most conducive to learning and good behaviour. In addition, teachers can help by:
- Having a clear structure to the day/lesson, with a visual timetable displayed to show what is going to happen.
- Minimising disruption to routine – always talk through any known changes well in advance so that the child can be prepared.
- Organising the classroom with clearly defined areas and setting up a quiet, distraction-free corner for the child with ASD (and others) to use, as and when appropriate.
- Remembering that the child with ASD may not understand facial expression and figurative language. Explain clearly and concisely in ‘black and white’ terms.
- Refering to the child by name – s/he may not undertsand that ‘everyone’ includes them.
- Using concrete apparatus and visual signs/symbols to back up verbal and written instructions.
- Using social stories to teach about social interaction and appropriate behaviours for different situations.
- Being clear and firm about behaviour and applying rules consistently.
- Making use of ICT – computers are not demanding emotionally, as people often are, and can allow the child with ASD to ‘rest’ from the demands and pitfalls of social interaction.
SENCO Action to support pupils with ASD effectively:
- Ensure that teachers and TAs understand the difficulties experienced by children with ASD.
- Provide guidance to teachers in finding strategies to support these children.
- Allocate a teaching/support assistant to be in the classroom whenever possible (and make sure that there is good communication between them and the class teacher, and parents).
- Set up a quiet, distraction free working space for pupils with ASD to use when appropriate.
- Explain to other children in the school/class that the child has difficulties – and how they can help him/her.
- Set up a “buddy” system, or circle of friends.
This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2007
About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.