Autism and Homework

picture from https://www.thetricyclecollective.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Homework.jpg

​This isn’t the blog I was going to write, I was planning on one about transition (will get to it),  but I’m a member of the email-based SENCO forum and an interesting question was asked about Autistic students and homework.  It is seriously one of the biggest issues we have to deal with when we support secondary students with ASC, so I thought it would be worth sharing my suggestions here too. 

So…if you have a student refusing, never seeming to do homework, parents are saying that it is causing meltdowns and great distress, the student is always in detention for homework not being done, or their homework is of poor quality, here are some thoughts from Emma and I…

​We don’t find it helpful to start with “Not doing homework is not an option” (this often comes from SLT) because that immediately clashes with the need to meet the child’s needs.  

Homework is desirable and necessary as they work towards GCSEs as we know.  So what should happen is a plan to work up to achieving homework success.

First you have to evaluate what the barriers are to homework for the pupil.  They could be any or all of the following (or other things too)…

•  Rigid thinking pattern – school is school / home is home and not having the flexible thinking to accept that homework is part of school you do at home.

•  Sensory stress – after keeping it together all day, they just have to let go of that stress at home and is in no fit state to do homework. (see https://www.reachoutasc.com/blog/spoon-theory-and-children-with-asc-in-school – this will explain it well)

•  Comprehension – does the student really understand what they have to do for homework? Have they copied it down correctly, has the teacher explained it in away they can understand?

•  Executive Functioning skills – has the student got the organisation, planning, self monitoring, predicting and working memory skills to be able to do homework independently?

•  Fear of failure – schools are so quick to impose sanctions on students with ASD who don’t do homework that you set them up for constant failure and there then is no desire to try as they fear the sanction and it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. So many of my students start being given detentions as part of the schools rigid behaviour policy. This is not taking into account their SEND.

Here are some of the strategies we have tried successfully:

  • Sit down with the student and the parent and discuss what the barriers might be. Then explain that homework is something important but you are going to make a stepped plan together to enable it to be successful.
  • ​Remember homework must have a real purpose not be just a time filler so teacher has fulfilled their objectives (and can show senior management that they always set homework) The student with ASC needs to see the point of what they are doing (and other students too, I would suggest).   Thanks to Barbara Horsfall-Turner​ for that point. 
  • Let all teachers know the plan – that their responsibility is to make sure the pupil understands and can achieve the homework.  This may have to be differentiated at first.  Structured activities or projects based on their interests work best, rather than open ended activities.   Differentiate the sanctions – so if student can show they have tried, they don’t get detentions.
  • Help the student learn organisation skills and along with parents discuss together how they are going to organise themselves at home. It may need a visual or written timetable, a sand or electronic timer and a reminder that after the agreed time it is ok to finish. A social story about this can be found herehttps://www.reachoutasc.com/resources/homework-social-story
  • Homework clubs are good if the student isn’t feeling overwhelmed – so have a clear purpose and build rewards into success – such as if homework is done with the help, parents will allow time on computer etc.
  • Social Stories are always good to record what you have agreed, explain it well and clearly and to leave with the student for them to remind themselves of the positive support and help they can get. Social stories are positive and affirming so help with self esteem too.
  • Parents can set up a workstation at home (a desk or other quiet place in a hall or quiet room works well) and have clear start and end times, discourage internet use unless essential for the work and a favoured activity to do when they have finished.
  • If writing is a problem let them do all their work typed on a computer but insist it has to be printed out and put into their book.
  • Make homework successful, start easy, with what they CAN do and build it up.
  • If there is sensory stress, allow sensory breaks and out these in place throughout the school day. Even very bright students can benefit greatly from these.

I have used and implemented all these strategies and schools have seen students build up to doing more homework, more successfully. However, I will say that occasionally homework just has to be suspended for the sake of the student managing and coping with the rest of the school day. This is often temporary but we have to remember that we are supporting a child with a SEND and that is their need. 

Autism in the Early Years

​This post is a promised contribution to #childcarehour run by @LyndseyJF @blueybaloo and @earlyyearsideas

Children can be diagnosed with autism before they are 5, but there will also be a significant number of autistic children that are not diagnosed until later.  It is therefore important that early years staff are aware of what autism is, how to recognise the signs in young children and what they can do about it.  Training is important, as is good observation skills and awareness of other SEND conditions, as it may not necessarily be autism. 

​Whether or not a child has a diagnosis, if they have characteristics that seem like autism and they are finding it difficult to access play and learning in the early years setting, then generally the strategies that would be suggested for children with autism, can also be used with any child.  That is because they are about accepting the child’s individual needs and strengths, communicating well to them and providing a structure to and visual support for learning.

Language delay and echolalia (repeating words, phrases or scripts) are often features of autistic children, but some have amazingly advanced language and vocabulary.  Some will find reading easy and some will find it difficult.  They may have special interests, they may have limited and repetitive play.  They may find other pupils confusing and avoid them, or they may be always in the middle of the group, sometimes trying to dominate what everyone else will do. They may find eye contact difficult but have amazing memory.

Many children with autism struggle most with sensory overload in a busy early years environment.  Focus and attention are difficult when you are trying so hard to stop the noise, light, smell, movement, colours and textures overwhelming you. Or they may be finding it hard to work out where their body is in the space around them.  (There are many other features that may give us cause to believe a child has autism but not enough room in a blog to say them all.)

It is obviously necessary to work with parents and the school SENCO if staff believe a child may have autism. If a child has a diagnosis already, then it is important to make sure that their needs are being accommodated for and met. 

The best way to include and support an autistic child is to get on their level, work from where they are and allow them to lead the way.  Provide structure, visual support and time for them to process what you ask them to do.  Play can be developed by first entering their world and Intensive Interaction is a good way to do this. ( http://www.intensiveinteraction.co.uk/about/ ) If a child is anxious to control what is happening or easily upset when there is change or unexpected outcomes, then support them in learning to understand that different things can happen through interesting toys and activities.  Don’t overwhelm them with demands and instructions but do break tasks into steps they can achieve.

There is so much more I could write.  Emma and I love working with early years children because there are so many things that can be done to build up their strengths and skills.  We look at making the environment sensory friendly for them and find the strategies to help them play and learn.

I have written a lot more about autism in the early years, much of which is in my book “How to Support Pupils with Autism Spectrum Condition in Primary School” published by LDA in April 2016.   But until you get hold of my book, I also recommend http://www.amazon.co.uk/Playing-Laughing-Learning-Children-Spectrum/dp/1843106086 

I also run courses specifically for nurseries, early years settings and childminder groups.   Contact us for information.