Have you noticed? Girls on the Autistic Spectrum.

I’ve recently worked with some schools to assess and apply for an autism diagnosis for girls.  What was interesting was that each school had had some autism training from me and began to realise that these girls showed some of the same characteristics that I had spoken about.   For some, the diagnosis was straight forward.   However, for at least one, it was not so.  (continued below…)

The problem can be that not all doctors who do diagnostic assessments are as up to date as they should be.  They don’t realise that the diagnostic assessments themselves are weighted to the male ASC characteristics and that research is only just emerging that looks at the female ASC profile. (Gould and Ashton-Smith, 2011).

Our awareness of this has been helped by female autistic adults, who are themselves seeking diagnosis and then writing about it.  So, authors like Liane Willey-Holliday, Tanya Marshall and Ann Memmott are writing blogs, books and pressing for more research to be done.   We had the recent ITV programme “Girls with Autism” which aired in July and the book released by the Limpsfield Grange school in Surrey.   A quick internet search calls up countless articles and information about girls on the spectrum.

But what do you really need to know.  Here’s a short outline of SOME of the features to look out for in girls, and if you think a girl in your class may be on the autism spectrum, then seek advice from an autism specialist teacher or an Educational Psychologist, who will be able to guide you and parents through the process.

Communication

  • Boys are often identified by their behaviour.   When they cannot find the words to use, they use actions to make their needs known or in reaction to distressing situations.  Whilst girls can also do this, often girls on the autistic spectrum can be more passive.  They may internalize their distress and be more vulnerable to mental health issues.  They may be withdrawn or ‘moody’ or just ignore the demands, rather than challenge them.
  • Girls can often speak in a babyish tone or have no regard for the hierarchy of authority in school so can be seen as cheeky or rude, when they are just stating facts.  Girls, like boys, often take language literally and so misunderstanding and confusion prevents them really ‘getting’ what is going on around them or what the teacher really means.   Girls can also be incredibly articulate and clever in certain subjects.
  • If a girl on the autistic spectrum gets by by imitating the social behaviours of those around her she may not be able to discriminate what are appropriate and what behaviours are not.

Social Communication and Interaction

  • Girls on the autistic spectrum can seem more socially active, but they can want to dominate and be in control of the friendship group or cope by imitating the social behavior of a group.  Often they cannot cope with jokes, teasing and communication breakdowns.  They may be moody, withdrawn, throw a tantrum or withdraw when things are difficult for them.   On the other hand, they may seem the life and soul of the group but struggle to maintain the friendships beyond a basic level.
  • Girls on the autistic spectrum can ‘feel’ intensely.  One thing can be intense shame when they don’t get something right, especially socially.  They cannot often tell the difference between a small social mistake, something that everyone else would just brush off and move on, or a big mistake that marks you out as odd. Consequently, a lot of stress an awkwardness can be felt when they are in any classroom groups or social situations.

Social Imagination / Flexibility of Thought

  • Play can seem very imaginative and girls on the spectrum can lose themselves intensely in books and characters.   The play however, is very strict and controlled.   For example, a doll is called a name, given a character and nothing can change that identity once it has been assigned.   The special interests the girl has can be seemingly usual interests for girls, such as in ponies or celebrities, but they can become very intense and all-consuming and younger interests can still be present in adolescence.
  • Girls on the autistic spectrum can have the same difficulties with lack of organization and planning as boys on the spectrum do.  They may have also become obsessive organisers who need to control everything or they become very distressed.   Change and new situations will also be difficult and girls can be as likely as boys to exhibit characteristics of PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance).
  • Girls on the autistic spectrum can be fun, talented, clever, and have lots of potential to make a great contribution to the world…Just like the boys!

Sensory

  • Sensory issues and dealing with a busy, noisy, smelly, confusing world can be the most stressful thing that a girl or boy on the autistic spectrum has to deal with.If you want to know what it is like, watch this clip:     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcS2VUoe12M

 To encourage you, one girl, in year 5 who received her diagnosis was extremely relieved.   She and her family read all they could about it and she initially began talking about it all the time, often using it as an excuse.   As we spent time with her to help her come to terms with her diagnosis, we looked at lots of positive role models and she asked if she could make a presentation about ASC to show her class,

“because then they might understand me and like me.”

It did indeed help her classmates understand her, and enabled friendships that had previously been disintegrating, start again and rebuild.   that’s not it, not a  ‘happy ever after’ ending and everything is sorted.  This girl is now in Year 6 and likely to be going to a different high school from her friends.  We are working with her and will work with her new school to do the best transition we can but the challenges she will face will be greater than her peers and I only can hope she receives the right support throughout her secondary years.

References

  1. https://senmagazine.co.uk/articles/articles/senarticles/is-autism-different-for-girls
  2. Gould, J. and Ashton-Smith, J. (May 2011) Missed diagnosis or misdiagnosis? Girls and women on the autism spectrum, Good Autism Practice, Vol. 12 No. 1 p 34-41.
  3. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/apr/12/autism-aspergers-girls?utm_content=bufferf7dc8&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer (Doctors failing to spot Asperger’s in Girls)

Twitter: Follow @TaniaAMarshall   @Autism_Women    @curlyhairedalis   @ResearchAutism

Post 16 Transition for students with SEND / ASC.

At this time of year many secondary teachers are thinking about the looming GCSE’s for their Y11’s and may also be thinking about what happens next for their students. If a student has SEND / ASC then there are additional challenges when leaving school and moving on to the next step in their educational lives.

I often find that the student’s themselves realise in Y10 that they will soon be leaving school. For some they may be so relieved that it’s all they want to think about.  For other’s it’s such a massive change in their lives, after all, being at school is all they’ve ever known, that the anxiety it causes can seriously impact on their concentration, mental wellbeing and motivation in school.  Some are so anxious, they cannot bear to talk about it.

This blog is co-written by @Mr_ALNCo an FE Teacher who’s created a role for a Transition Support Worker at his FE college in South Wales. First I am going to look at transition to college or training from the viewpoint of the school, and James is going to offer advice from the college’s point of view.

from www.do2learn.com

What Secondary Schools can do.

The Y10 and Y11s I work with who have ASC are often very worried about leaving school. However, working with them to explain what leaving will be like, what options they have and developing some plans that enable them to see the way ahead can be really important. If they have an EHCP then transition meetings should start in Y9. By the time they get to Y11, the meetings should be with the college or other establishment they are going to go to and make a plan of support that the student and their parents can contribute to.  If no EHCP their needs are still important and preparing them for college or apprenticeships is just as important.

  1. Include their parent’s ideas and start with a familiar member of staff who knows the student well.  With the student, work out a number of choices they have for the their future. Talk about their aspirations, their favourite interests and subjects they might do well in.  I use a decision making visual to look at the pros and cons of each option, including what grades might be needed (and what option is available with lower grades if relevant.) This information is shared with parents and the family given time to explore and discuss with their child. I have done this in Y9 to help a student choose their options, but mainly with Y10s and Y11s,  depending on the individual.
  2. Use the internet to research the possible colleges and courses the student might be interested in. There are often a few places to choose from, depending on your area. School 6th Forms might be good for some students for familiarity, but for others might be limited on choice of subjects. Every student will need treating individually to find what will work for them.
  3. Find out what apprenticeships are offered and if support is available for their SEND needs. Present that information to the student and their family, and encourage parents to arrange some visits to these places as early as possible. One student I have worked with has been set up with a farming apprenticeship in conjunction with the family, a local college and a local farm. All bespoke for him.
  4. Talk to the student about growing up and teach them some practical life skills, again working together with parents. Using public transport, making phone calls, sending emails, using money and paying for things are really important skills to help them move on from school into post 16 life.
  5. Plan, talk, prepare, visit, familiarise, support and talk positively about the next stage. But don’t overdo it. They still have to finish their time at school and some pupils with SEND /ASC might not be able to cope with thinking about exams and college. In that case, plan some transition support after GCSEs have finished. One school I worked with brought the student back into school after GCSEs and he worked with his previous TA on getting ready for college with great success.

And now from @Mr_ALNCo

What Colleges can do.

Transition for learners with SEND/ALN is something that traditionally is rather inconsistent across the FE sector in Wales or where it is consistent, the chance to share this good practice is often limited. Many practitioners who work with learners with SEND/ALN know the importance a good transition pathway into college can have for learners.

I am lucky, in that I have a supportive Principal and Vice Principal who supported my view of the importance of transition, allowing me to create a specific role to help support transition and reviews within the college. A new post which we feel will have huge beneficial impact.

Much like the Local Area Reviews now taking place in England, Wales has seen a huge change in make-up of its FE provision over the past years, resulting in fewer, larger, more resilient colleges.

In addition to this, the Welsh Government has introduced a bill into the Senedd in Cardiff Bay which, if passed, will bring about the biggest change to the SEN system in Wales for the past 30 years. Much like the duties contained Children and Family Act 2014, (although there are some differences), FE, for the first time will have new statutory duties, one of which is to maintain an Individual Development Plan for learners with SEN/ASD. If you want to know more, visit the Welsh Government’s ALN pages on its website.

It is crucial that FE in all areas start to plan for this now. If we want better outcomes for our learners with SEND/ALN we need to make sure that they get the best possible start in college. How then can we ensure this happens? From a FE perspective looking out to fellow practitioners in schools, the 4 elements below go some way to helping

  1. Link with your college’s Learning Support department. There are many talented and caring professionals who can advise on course choice, adjustments and transition arrangements. Open up the lines of communication and don’t be afraid to ask questions
  2. Share any relevant material which will help support the learner. If the learner has a One Page Profile, this is a great way for staff in college to get to know the learner.
  3. Invite the college to any Annual Reviews which are taking place for learners who are expressing an interest in college. The more we know about the learners’ aspirations and support requirements, the easier it will be to work together.
  4. Many colleges hold open days and bespoke events in quieter times for learners with SEND/ALN, if not contact the college who will normally be more than willing to arrange a bespoke meeting/tour. Our college has recently introduced VR tours, something that fellow FE colleague, Joe Baldwin has used as a powerful transition tool.

For each learner, we hold a review within the first term to see how they are settling into college. This gives us an opportunity to change the things that aren’t working and continue the things that are working well.

Much like our learners, we as a college are always learning.

@Mr_ALNCo

You can access our FREE course with Schudio TV about transitions, including an update from Cardiff and Vale College Here