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  They may be withdrawn or ‘moody’ or just ignore the demands, rather than challenge them.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

Preparing an autism friendly secondary classroom

Photo from Ann Memmott www.annsautismblog.com showing what visual hyper-sensitivity can be like in a classroom.

As I promised, here are my tips for secondary teachers getting ready for the next school year.  There are likely to be a number of students with autism or other SEND needs coming into your classes this year and I want to share some of the tips and advice that I would usually pass on to secondary teachers.

Emma and I work with around ten secondary schools and our support looks very different from the work we do with primaries.  The differences in the way a secondary school works brings up additional challenges for the school SENCO and for individual teachers.

Firstly, the movement between lessons, having up to six different teachers each day and the responsibility of being organised, on time for lessons and doing homework are major challenges for autistic / SEND pupils.  On top of that is the minefield of social relationships, especially in Year 7 when children are meeting lots of new children from different feeder primaries and everyone is working out new relationships and friendships.   I’m not going to go into all the challenges and issues in this blog, but give teachers some tips on how they can make their classrooms and lessons autism/SEND friendly and a little bit of advice for a whole school approach that really makes a huge difference.

“Daily Transitions

“I was really scared of the corridors.  All the noise and so many people made my brain scream.  I couldn’t focus on where I was going and so I hid until everyone had gone.  I was always late for lessons.”  Girl with ASC, Year 7.

Once a student with ASC has started at a secondary school it is common for them to take longer than most students to be able to settle into the routines of changing rooms between lessons and coping with the different teachers that they meet throughout the day.  Some students will need escorting (by teaching assistant or other students) to each class for some time.  Others may benefit from being allowed to leave each class early to avoid the sensory overload of the corridors and travel to their next class in the quieter corridors.  In Year 7 a buddy system may be set up so that students with ASC are not left behind when a class moves on.

Teachers should be aware that it can take some time for the student to adjust to their voice, subject matter and style when they have just come from another teacher who may be very different.  Subject teachers can support this by

  • Having a seating plan and allowing the student with ASC to choose where they sit (where they are comfortable, with a friend, can see the main focus of the lesson, get to the door easily).
  • Giving the student time to settle, longer than other students, speaking to them kindly to remind them where they are and which subject they are now doing.
  • Get to know the student, talk to them about their interests and use this as a basis for your relationship.  They will appreciate you for it.”

This is an excerpt from my book “How to Support students with Autism Spectrum Condition in Secondary School” page 23 published by LDA 

The Classroom environment

  1. Each subject teacher will want to make their classroom welcoming and most of all, functional for a classes of different year groups coming into their room each day.   Displays tend to be less of an issue for secondary rooms but clutter can be as much a problem for children who are visually distracted and find it hard to focus as in any classroom.
  2. Have a clear space around your whiteboard.   Enables students to focus solely on the screen / board.   You could put key vocabulary words for the topic on the wall at the side of the whiteboard for those whose attention may wander slightly.  You’d have to change this for each year group but if you have them on Velcro they can be easily changed.
  3. Display visual pictures with key vocabulary.  This helps students remember and understand if they miss or don’t understand verbal information.
  4. Keep class rules simple.   Most rules can be summed up in 2 points:  Be safe.  Be kind.
  5. Have a seating plan and keep to it.  It really is worth allowing autistic/SEND pupils have some say in where they sit.  For example, having to look over the tops of other people’s heads can mean accessing what is on the board more difficult for them.
  6. Suggest disorganised students colour code their timetable with the colour of the subject exercise books.  It might help them bring the right book to your lesson.
  7. It is likely a student with autism or SEND will struggle to have the right equipment.  If that’s going to be likely in your class, have a spare set for them, kept in class and that they can access without making a fuss at the beginning of the lesson.

Accessing lessons

  1. Copying off the board takes a lot of switching attention which can be so difficult for Autistic/SEND students.  Plan to give out printed copies of the text and ask students to highlight key words or important points, it is much more effective.
  2. For those who find writing difficult; find other ways of recording what they know, so they can vary how they record their work.   For example, most computers have speech to text (they can try this for homework first), or typing it on a laptop or even dictating to a recording device.   Diagrams, mind maps, power point, photos and other visual recording can help some pupils.
  3. Printing off homework on sticky labels and giving these out means homework is always accurately recorded in their planners.  If you have an online homework system, make sure the autistic/SEND student (and their parents) know how it works and can access it.
  4. A pupil passport is a great way to give every subject teacher the key information about each student; read it and plan the strategies into your whole class teaching.
  5. Use TAs wisely.   The hardest thing is finding time to talk to them but if you can make time you will reap the benefits.   (This is easier when a TA is based in a department,  make sure they are part of departmental meetings).   Have a look at @MaximisingTAs for tips on using TAs better.
  6. Group work is a common complaint from my autistic students,  they hate it!  I suggest subject teachers plan structured paired work to help all students work collaboratively, and build up to group work.   A structure, with well-defined roles works best.

Parents

  1. Set up an email link with parents.   Some secondaries have good parent communication systems in place, others have yet to get there.   But as a subject leader try to communicate directly with parents about their child in the first half term.   They will want to know how they are settling in.  You could send a postcard.  Ask them if there is anything they can share that will help you teach their child in your subject.  It maybe having a spare PE kit in school will be vital for them actually having PE kit.  It may be that you need to email the ingredients for cooking directly to the parents to ensure that the student will have what they need.  English teachers might use a book they really like.
  2. Pass on any information (especially good things) to the SENCO or pastoral leader whoever is the person who might speak to parents the most.   Having up to date information to hand will make their job much easier.
  3. Talk to other subject teachers and the SENCO before you contact parents about a behaviour or other problem.   It will be important to know if there is a similar problem in other subjects and if there are any particular links.   For example, it could be a playground issue that impacts on your lesson just after break and other subjects find the same on the other days.

Behaviour

  1. School is often overwhelming for autistic/SEND students.  Be aware of sensory sensitivities and needs.   The student may need a break occasionally.   A time-out card can help them do this without fuss.  They can be taught how to use this to calm down and return to the class.
  2. Low level disruptions are often attempts to communicate.   Students who find it hard to follow or join in conversation often act loudly or silly because that gets feedback and acceptance from their peers.   Structured paired work and teaching conversation / public speaking skills can help the whole class.
  3. Other low level disruption occurs when a student doesn’t understand what they have to do or feel they can’t do it.  They might be unable to ask for help, or try to distract you from asking them what they have done.  Don’t just explain using the same words – a task may need breaking into smaller chunks and explaining more clearly.
  4. Be aware of those who find being the centre of attention too much to cope with.  Give them chance to answer questions through writing answers down on a whiteboard, talk to them individually and don’t point out anything they are doing in front of the whole class.
  5. Talk to your autistic/ SEND students about what they are interested in.   Especially if they have a topic they like to talk about a lot.   They will really appreciate you taking a few minutes every now and again to chat to them about it.   Get to know them and what makes them tick.   All children work well for the teachers they know like them.
  6. Students with autism can be very honest.   I was once told I stank because I’d put perfume on that day.   Don’t take anything personally.   If they are shouting obscenities at you they are VERY stressed and you should use your skill to help them not get into verbal combat with them.
  7. Know who you can call for help.   Prevention is better than reaction but if you are in a position where the student can’t cope with your lesson and has become angry or upset, know what the plan is and follow it carefully.   It works best when every teacher has a visual card with the plan on it that they can show the student and so reduce verbal language which causes more stress.
  8. Have high expectations of behaviour – but know that autistic / SEND students often need support to achieve those standards.   Writing a clear explanation down of what you want, rather than telling off for what they are doing wrong works much better than lots of nagging.  Believe me!

 

​There’s lots and lots of other advice I could give but not much space in this blog.   Here is the link to the ten top tips sheet that can be printed and given to secondary teachers. (see photo).  In my Secondary book I have put a lot more about transitions, accessing the curriculum (more subject specific information), behaviour support, social support, puberty and SRE as well as exam support.   It is aimed at non-ASC-specialist teachers but SENCOs will find it really useful too.  It’s a handbook to dip in and out of.  (Get the sticky tabs ready.)   Hope you might think of buying it! 

Emotion Works _ What is it and how can I use it in my classroom/setting?

Emotion Works was developed by Claire Murray in Edinburgh and about 4 years ago I came across it on the internet.  The first thing that caught my eye was the visual cogs.  Thinking that this would be good for the pupils with autism that we support at Reachout ASC,  we jumped on a train and attended a training day in Glasgow.

We ‘got it’ straight away.  We were working to develop the emotional literacy and problem solving skills of our pupils and here was a resource that would enable us to do this better.  We liked it because it was visual and structured.  It broke down all the issues around emotions into manageable components and this gave us the chance to use it flexibly with pupils of all different ages and abilities.  The pack and licence gave us everything we needed to get us started and we still find there is everything we need in that.  The extras that Claire has developed are great too.

This is from the Emotion Works website, explaining how Emotion Works works.

At the heart of the Emotion Works Approach is a simple and versatile visual resource called ‘The Component Model of Emotion’.  This colour-coded model identifies seven aspects of emotional knowledge and competence that work together to show how ’emotion works’.

Early Years and Primary Pupils

In Primary School there are many opportunities to develop emotional literacy.  I can see how a class teacher could use this in many lessons to explore characters in stories, poetry and topic work such as motives of key players in history.  It would be good to develop many aspects of PSHE and RE.  The literacy aspect works well to develop good writing and speaking.  Children learn to develop their own understanding of what makes them work and how events, emotions, thoughts and behaviours work together. There are some fabulous examples of whole class learning on her website.  Just look at the creative ways that teachers are using Emotion Works in the classroom.

For us as autism specialist teachers, we often work with individuals or 1:1 with pupils. We use Emotion Works as a teaching tool to develop emotional literacy. This involves introducing emotion words (using the visual symbols that come with the pack) and helping the child identify events and ‘triggers’ that prompt these emotions.  With some pupils with autism, this helps their memory and recall as well as connecting events to emotions.  With other children we use Emotion Works to help with problem solving.  We might start by identifying a problem, a situation or an emotion they are struggling with, and then work with a 4, 5 or 6 part model (depending on the child) to work out what the problem is about.  We can work out what things are connected to the problem and then concentrate on the blue cog in trying to work out what the solution or support needed could be.  This blue cog is our favouritie…”What makes me feel better?” is a good question to ask.  What we love is that all this involves the child.   They are listened to, they offer their own viewpoint and they are involved in choosing the strategies for change.  There are plenty of visual resources in the Emotion Works pack to support those with poorer verbal language and the whole structure helps pupils with autism be able to process each part at a time and then see it together as a whole.   Here is an example of one exploring the character of the troll and the Billy goat from Claire’s website.

Secondary Pupils.

To be honest, we actually use Emotion Works more with secondary age pupils than with primary.  That is mainly because we are not class teachers (if I was I’d be using it in many different lessons, as above).  We have found that pupils with autism who have made it to secondary school are coping with many more stressful situations and problems that they ever had to at primary school.  We are fortunate to work regularly with individuals (from weekly to monthly) and have time to work through issues, problems, challenges and emotions with them.  We have used Emotion Works in group work and with individuals and the reason I am writing this post and inviting Claire Murray down to Lancashire to launch Emotion Works here, is because the response we get from nearly every pupil is amazing.  Considering the difficulties pupils with autism often have in communicating and understanding different aspects of an event or emotion, we have seen that the respond to the visual structure of Emotion Works really well and the things they have been able to tell us wouldn’t have happened without this support.  We develop a lot of the ideas into a bigger visual map (such as the one about sleep, below) and the two are then permanent visual supports for the pupil , their teachers and parents to remind them of what we have discussed and what they might like to do about it.

I think I need to give you some examples.

Preparing for a new situation

From moving up to Year 10 when the curriculum changes and GCSE pressure kicks in, to going on a school trip or being invited to a party, Emotion Works has enabled us to explore with the pupil how this might be making them feel, what effect that is having on them, and what they could do to manage the emotion and situation better.  It can lead to a plan being made to help them deal with the new experience or a change in the way they are supported to enable more suitable support (for example changing from a TA in the classroom to a mentor type role to deal with the homework for GCSE).  Mostly, it helps the SENCO, parent and teachers understand what the pupil really is dealing with rather than them assuming they know!

Understanding anxiety and anger

Anger and anxiety are big emotions.  Having autism can make these bigger and more constant than for other pupils and understanding the role puberty can take in having these emotions is also important.  Each pupil has very individual triggers and reactions to these emotions and it has been amazing to be able to explore these with them.  It has worked as a small group (such as in the part example about anxiety with a group of girls with Asperger’s and the example about anger with a group of boys with ASD below).  We have found the grey cog (intensity) particularly useful and sometimes link this to the “Five Point Scale” so that we can explore how they could recognise the earlier stages of the emotion and find regulation strategies.  The purple cog (influences) was particularly good to explore next, as peer pressure and self esteem were other themes that came out of our discussion.

Part of our exploring anxiety with a group of girls with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Part of our exploring anger with a group of boys with ASD.
Working out how a Y10 pupil might sleep better (their request)

Restorative Practice

It happens occasionally that we arrive in school and there has been ‘an incident’.  We sometimes find that exploring what happened, the triggers and the emotions can really help a pupil and their teachers understand the whole story.  It often identifies where the key trigger was and helps us ask the pupil how we could restore relationships or order in a fair way.  Mostly the pupil responds well because they feel they have been listened to, even if they might have been in the wrong.  If someone else was in the wrong, or perceived to be, we can then work with the school and pupil to put things right.  On more than one occasion it has helped us identify the early stages of bullying and deal with that.  It has also helped us work with friends falling out and restore the friendship!

Teaching emotional literacy

We like all our pupils to develop emotional literacy at a level they can understand.  This is an important aspect of our support for their mental health and wellbeing.  Professor Tony Attwood says that most people with Asperger’s (and autism) don’t understand what ‘CALM’ actually is as they live with so much anxiety constantly in their lives.  We have addressed this in all our work with children and young people from the early years to young adults in giving them the chance to explore what calm means and what other emotions drive their thoughts and behaviours.  With many of our pupils we can do this using Emotion Works as our base and then concentrating on the blue cog, “What makes us feel better?”  It is from this we use a variety of other resources to explore what actually does.  It can be anxiety management, social stories, exercise and sports, sensory diets, jokes, special interests, developing friendships and other supportive relationships, ways to feel comfortable in social inclusion, learning about something new or a mixture of all these things.

The Acrylic Set of Cogs were made for us by a college DT department.

Parents and other professionals

I think this resource could really be used by parents and I can see lots of possibilities for families of children with ASC to develop emotional communication.  Starting young, one or two of the cogs can be explored and more introduced as the child gets older or more able to develop those concepts.  Teenagers may not want to talk to their parents but this may give a framework for communication in the teenage years with a no-blame and listening approach.  I’d use it to teach about drugs, alcohol and sexual attraction, consent and other big relationship and life issues.

Professional from CAMHS, hospitals and many others could use this model to explore emotional and physical difficulties.  I like the idea of doctors using this to explore what might be wrong when a person with autism is sick and show them clearly what could make them feel better.

Training enquiries email:   https://www.emotionworks.org.uk/contact/

What makes transition work for Autistic pupils?

image from https://tentotwenty.com

Autistic pupils can find everyday transitions difficult, as well as the major transitions that happen. The reasons can include:

  • Not being told what the change will involve,
  • What will be expected of them,
  • How long it’s going to last,
  • Perceived or real sensory challenges,
  • Not being given time enough to process the changes or enough information to do so
  • Being so engrossed and comfortable in what they are doing that they cannot seem to switch attention and move to somewhere else,

Transitions can cause a lot of anxiety.

If you’re involved in supporting children with every day transitions and often a visual timetable used correctly (see my blog post here) can help enormously and give the pupil some interaction and choices when appropriate. Giving them time to process and information about what to expect is important.  An example is a child who hated lining up because he didn’t know where he was going.  He did everything he can to avoid lining up, such as hitting others in the hope he’d be made to stay behind.  For him, we worked with him to ask “Where are we going?”;  So he didn’t have to rely on an adult telling him and he felt less anxious and more in control.

But what about the major transition of moving to the next class or from Primary to Secondary School…

When it goes well.

Transitions to a new class in the same school

The big transitions happen in September as the child moves to a new class in Primary or a new school as in starting secondary school.  For class to class transition, all the following principles apply, and I think it’s really important to help the child see what will be the SAME as well as different.  It’s how our brains cope with change.  We make connections with what is familiar to us, drawing on our past experiences and looking for connections.  We need to support autistic pupils in the same way.  I have written a social story booklet you can use here

Transition to secondary school

I’m pleased to see that many secondary schools are getting better at transition, particularly for their SEND pupils.  I say some, because others have not been so good.  I’ll come to that later.  When it works well, transition:

  • Starts as early as year 4.  Parents and the school should start to have the conversation of what is the next step for the child.  Parents need time to emotionally process the fact that their child is going to be making a major move. They will feel nervous too.  Starting early means they have time to look around, do the research and be ready for a more formal transition meeting in Y5.
  • A transition plan is put in place.  Some good resources for this can be found –  I love the resources below, do take a look.   They are really helpful in supporting parents and schools to work together.  Often the secondary school won’t get involved until the child has been offered a definite place.  DON’T PANIC.  There is still plenty of time for them to do a good transition.
  • The autistic pupil is helped to prepare, gently, positively and with the right support for them.  I often start with a timeline at the start of Y6.  This plots out the whole year and key events, including secondary applications, notifications of places, holidays, trips, open evenings and trips to secondary schools and so on.  We use different coloured pens and are able to add other things that come up.  This works better than a calendar for most, as they can see the whole year and how much time is between each event.
  • The pupil is familiar with their new class / school before they make the move.  This should take as many visits as the child needs, at different times.  For example, the first visit during lesson time when all the classes are in their rooms and the corridors are quiet.  Extra visits might be made to familiarise the pupil with the dining hall, where the lockers and toilets are and where they can go for help, or quiet places to go at break times.
  • The pupil has had the chance to meet key people who will be there to support them on their first day.   Photos may be taken to remind them over the summer holidays.
  • The pupil has someone they can discuss their worries and fears with.  They have the opportunity to chat in a group with peers/friends so that they all know they have similar challenges ahead and so that they can help each other with suggestions.
  • Relevant and up-to-date paper work has been prepared and passed on to the SENCO of the receiving school.  This does not always happen.
  • The Primary school begin to help the pupil learn to work with other adults, especially if they’ve had a long term TA, it is unusual and probably not possible for a pupil to have the same 1:1 all the time at secondary school.
  • The pupil has some input and contribution to their transition.  This may include choosing dates and activities to do on visits, taking their own photos or video around the new school, choosing their new school bag, preparing a place to do home work.(Advice for pupils who are struggling with anxiety or unable to do homework)
  • Parents feel informed, reassured and that they know who to contact when issues or questions arise.
  • The receiving teachers/school has had or is planning Autism training so that staff understand the spectrum and range of strengths and support needs in autism and how to help the pupil(s) that they are welcoming into their school or class.   You can start with my Ten Top Tips for Secondary teachers.

Schools who do good and successful transitions are flexible, involve the children and reassure parents.  One school I work with has a very successful summer school that has help numerous Autistic and SEND pupils to settle in well once they start Y7.  This school also has a dedicated Y7 support teacher, who doesn’t teach and works with all the pupils to deal with issues as soon as they come up right throughout their first year of secondary school.

When it goes badly.

Sometimes the move to a new class or school goes wrong for the child.  Often ending in permanent exclusion or at best, a lot of hard work to claw back the progress that should have been made.  Sometimes this is the time a specialist teacher is called for,  it’s not a good point to start.  We would much rather help at the actual transition stage and avoid some of these mistakes.  In the end, it can destroy a child’s confidence, their education chances and mental health.    Having had to pick up the pieces of failed transitions in the past, it’s always the child who suffers most.  I do a lot of work with our county’s Primary and Secondary PRUs. The PRUs I work with will agree with me. They are getting more and more autistic pupils who have been excluded from mainstream schools and many could have been supported better.

Bad transitions happen when:

  • No one bothers to put a plan in place.
  • The pupil is not given any preparation that is suitable for them.
  • Parents are not consulted and there is poor communication between the schools and home.
  • The pupil is ‘forced’ to move through exclusion or a hurriedly ‘managed move’.
  • Communication between schools is poor or non-existent.
  • Paperwork is not passed on so receiving school know nothing about the child’s needs.
  • A ‘no-excuses’ approach to behaviour is rigidly enforced from day 1 and child learns to fail straight away without any support to achieve good behaviour.
  • Staff don’t have any Autism training and think the pupils are ‘doing it on purpose’ (whatever ‘it’ may be).
  • Staff think that ‘kids like that’ shouldn’t be in their school.

I hate having to write this part.  Thankfully we work with some fantastic schools who get transition right.  It’s the stories we hear from other sources and when children have come to them on ‘managed moves’ or without the right support that we have realised that these things actually happen.  Parents then have a fight to help their son or daughter settle into a secondary school that doesn’t seem to want them.

If you are a parent, SENCO or teacher starting to think about a move to secondary school, or even to the next class then here are some great resources.  Good planning and preparation that involves the pupil will pay off generously in years to come.

http://www.autismspectrumeducation.com/uploads/6/9/9/1/699189/primary_to_secondary_transition_workbook.pdf

National Autistic Society advice on transition

Leicestershire Autism advice booklet on transition to high school

 

 

8 ways to help Autistic pupils manage anxiety

I was born worrying, so my mum said.  I don’t really know what it is like not to have a million worries running through my head all at once.  Every conceivable disaster is imagined once my brain focusses on a particular thought – There’s a downside to having a wild imagination.

But over the years I have learned a lot about anxiety and have many strategies that work for me in coping with it.  I can manage it.  I can recognise when it comes, what it is and fight it off.   Sometimes it goes quietly, sometimes I’m exhausted after the battle.   But I usually win these days.  Anxiety doesn’t control me like it used to.

There’s an upside to having a wild imagination too.  I can write stories and get really involved in a fantasy world in books and films.  I love craft and sewing.   And I can empathise when others tell me they are anxious all the time too. Anxiety’s energy can be harnessed for good.

When I work with children and young people who are autistic, they often seem anxious and many will tell me that they are…

www.emotionworks.org.uk

I do a lot of 1:1 and small group work with children and teenagers and whenever I bring up the topic of emotions, anxiety is what they all feel, often all the time.

When anxiety is there all the time, your brain is connected to the stress hormones and adrenalin that it creates. It is easy to develop an ‘I’m either high or low’ persona and crave the extremes of emotion because you don’t know how to ‘be’ without it.

You can also access our new Autism and Anxiety Course with Schudio TV for just £20.

Tony Attwood said that people with Asperger’s don’t know what ‘calm’ is (at a conference I was attending). This is what the children I work with tell me. It makes us telling them to ‘calm down’ useless. How can they do something they don’t recognise?

This is some of the support we use and I hope by sharing them,  you might find something to help your anxious autistic child.

1. One

Make sure first and foremost that it isn’t something that you are doing or others are that is causing the anxiety. This includes poor support, poor communication and not recognising their autism needs. It includes looking out for bullying and social isolation. Anxiety is not always the child’s issue but can be the result of other’s poor understanding and support.   It can be hard to accept that we are talking too much, nagging, dismissing the anxiety (“Don’t worry about that” etc) or causing sensory anxiety.  But it really is okay.  Son’t be hard on yourself but examine what you and others do, the autistic child, young person or adult’s responses and work to reduce the demands that cause anxiety from yourself, others and the environment.

2. Two

Check out their sensory sensitivities.This is the first port of call for me as sensory issues can be the source of most of an autistic person’s anxiety. Then you can help them find ways to manage the sensory overload or under-responsiveness, change the environmental factors that are contributing and introduce sensory activities.  Remember it can take time for an autistic child, young person or adult to recognise their own sensory differences and process the sensory information coming into their brains.  Some may be highly sensitive and anxious about going anywhere in case their senses may be assaulted, or not knowing what the sensory demands are causes anxiety. Others may take days or weeks to register the sensory demands and have a delayed reaction.  And some may need extra sensory input to be able to process their environment and the demands that are put on them.  It is so important to understand, support and work with the sensory needs of autistic people.

3. Three

I always explain and teach the child about their sensory systems and about self-regulation. A really good book I use as a reference is “Max and Me”. It is written with primary examples but I have used the story theme to talk to secondary pupils really successfully.  Mostly they will learn from experience and supportive people who understand and explain things to them.  It takes a long time to learn to recognise and self-regulate. We mustn’t expect the child to be in control of their emotions, but teach them how emotions affect us and explore what they are like inside, the physical responses as well as the thoughts and feelings.  “The incredible 5 point Scale” is a good visual resource for some autistic children and young people.  There is something else that they should be taught too, that we can seek out trusted others to help us regulate (feel better).

4. Four
I have been using Emotion Works (see my blog about this here) to get the pupils identifying and noticing that they are anxious and where or what triggers it. The visuals and components of emotions in the cogs are brilliant and I have used these with primary and secondary children,  just adjust the communication accordingly. We use symbols that come with the pack, pictures and talk, depending on the child’s communication strengths. It has been good to look at other emotion words that go with anxiety so that we can explore a greater range of situations and give words to the feelings they have. But the essence is this – we often only look at the behaviour and try to figure out what the trigger was.  We can work out the child is anxious, but it is really helpful to connect these elements  trigger = body sensations = intensity = behaviour.  From this we can look at what could make them feel better by addressing the body sensations and intensity rather than just the trigger.

5. Five
Naming an emotion helps. Recognising that this feeling is anxiety, worry, frustration and what the difference is does take time. Some autistic people have a difficult time recognising emotions. We just take it at the child’s pace. We might work with just 2-3 words or (in one particular child) 20-30 words.  Start to build your own word list of emotions and we find it useful to work with the 5 point scale.  We also use visuals from www.do2learn.com and group emotion words into sad, happy, angry and worried columns.  We make sure that at the start of the scale is one of the words – calm, okay or fine as our baseline.  Because, let’s be honest, we are not usually just happy or sad. You can help by making talking about emotions part of your everyday like and have a commentary on your emotions.  Simply say things like “I’m tired and it’s making me a bit grumpy.  I’m going to have a rest to make me feel better.”  See below for a way we have put a word list together with some of our pupils.  This took a long time, we didn’t rush it and let the pupils contribute at every point. We did work about what each work meant and felt like to each person.  With younger children it can take years to get to that point.

6. Six
Introduce positive emotion words. Living with anxiety 24/7 often means that the person doesn’t really focus on positive emotions and times that they might be happy or content are rare. Anxiety can be in the background all the time and so to bring positive emotions to the fore needs some training. Mindfulness techniques are really useful but make sure they make sense to the person and aren’t too abstract.

7. Seven
Teach the science of anxiety. My pupils love this booklet from GoZen. http://www.gozen.com/understand-your-childs-anxiety-infographic/ I use it with mainstream pupils, sometimes upper KS2 but mainly in secondary. It’s there to help the children understand what worry/anxiety is and how it affects us physically and our responses.

8. Eight
The last part is generally the longest and hardest. Finding ways that help us manage anxiety and change it into ‘calm’ or just ‘okay’ is okay. There are lots of things to try on the GoZen site but I know this is an individual pursuit. Coming alongside the child and trying things out, maybe recording what experiences help them feel better does take time. Often autistic children will use escapism to hide away from the anxious feelings. This is often in video games, books or You Tube videos. (which can be really helpful too.)  I try to help them find things that don’t just stop the anxiety being at the front of their mind for a while (because if that is your only strategy then there is a higher risk of turning to drugs, alcohol and other substances to mask the feelings later in their lives). Tony Attwood again, recommends ‘fixing the feeling’ by putting together a toolkit of strategies that work for them. I put together a booklet with the following headings and together we explore what tools the pupil has.

  • Physical Activity tools (Quick release of emotional energy)
  • Relaxation tools (Slow release of emotional energy)
  • Social tools (People and social activities that make me feel better.)
  • Thinking Tools (Thoughts, problem solving ideas, my favourite things, gratitude)
  • Special Interest Tools (Being an expert in my interest)
  • Sensory Tools (slowing down the messages to my brain)

These are not failsafe strategies and not all these things will help all autistic children. They are just some ideas and strategies I have developed with and for the children I support. It is important that the child ‘owns’ what they are learning and knows it’s about their own self-regulation. Anxiety is a huge part of life and for some, it is the environment that is the issue, not their self-awareness.  We work with children individually and in small groups to work out how it is for them and then work with them to help them navigate and manage the anxiety they feel.  It has to be with them, for them and at their pace. 

 

Please do share your tips and ideas too. Thank you. 

Autism and Homework

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

It is seriously one of the biggest issues we have to deal with when we support secondary autistic students, so I thought it would be worth sharing my suggestions about homework.

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 energy and thinking to accept that homework is the 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? Auditory Processing difficulties are common in autistic pupils, they may only catch odd words in the verbal instructions and so never be able to write the homework down properly. 

Fear of failure – schools are so quick to impose sanctions on autistic students 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 autistic students need to see the point of what they are doing (and other students too, I would suggest).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sometimes autistic pupils need a reduced timetable and the free periods are used to do homework for the rest of their subjects.  This can go a long way to ease stress from too many subjects and homework.
  • 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.
  • I can do my homework Here is a social story that might help.
  • 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.

Building good relationships with parents of children with autism.

 
image from http://quotesgram.com/

“We don’t see that behaviour at school”

“He’s doing it on purpose, he gets away with it at home”

“There’s no structure at home, you know”

These are one or two of the comments I hear regularly.It certainly not from all teachers or teaching staff, and it’s certainly not heard in many schools I work with.  But during training discussions or the occasional, off-the-cuff remark, there is an underlying search to find blame for a child with autism’s behaviour.   Especially when they have meltdowns,  in school or at home.   Or if the behaviour is a controlling or manipulating behaviour.   No teacher likes to think a child is trying to manipulate them.  We are human after all.

Don’t get me wrong….
 

Don’t get me wrong, parents of children with autism are as human as the rest of us.  Some are so overwhelmed they don’t know what to do, some are given a diagnosis and then dropped into a black hole of nothing,  no advice, no courses, no strategies, no support.  Some are dealing with their own difficulties, some families are broken and dealing with issues beyond what we may know.   Some families are trying everything they can, do all the research, attend all the courses and know their child’s needs inside out.

We can safely assume all parents love their child with autism, want the best for them and need support and understanding from the school system to help them travel this journey with a child with special needs.  No matter what their circumstances the very first barrier they come up against is judgement.

Sometimes, as we discuss behaviour on a course I am presenting, the teaching staff want to know how much of a child’s behaviour is because the parent isn’t doing a good job.   It can sound like they want to pass the buck to explain why they are finding the child’s behaviour difficult to control, manage or change.   Obviously I do explain how supporting a child who has high anxiety, sensory overloads, constant need for routines and familiarity, and difficulty with social relationships (including the interactions with family members) as well as trying to develop a safe, loving, constant, predictable and supportive life for their child is just as much a learning journey for the parent as it is for the school.   We only have the child in our class for one year in a primary school or a few lessons a week if at secondary school.   The parent has the child’s whole life to think of and that will be their focus.   They will be worried that their needs will not be met.  They will worry about admitting that they can’t help their child with their meltdown’s or other behaviours.   They will worry about them growing up and needing care when they aren’t there.   They will worry whether they could ever get married, have children, hold down a job.

And school is so often a battleground.  Parents have to fight to get their child’s needs met.  They have to try to understand the complex SEND processes and the tonnes of paperwork, appointments and in-depth questioning of their family life just to get some help for their child at school.  (Some parents know the SEND law far better than schools, because they have had to).  They are well aware that their child with autism is often under great stress just to manage the social, communication and curriculum demands of each day.   As teachers we need to understand this. And yes, occasionally, some parents will be getting it wrong.  But who are we to use that against them?   It’s our job as teachers to do all we can to make school work for a child with autism, and where possible work with parents in a professional and positive way.   Every bit of effort you put into building a positive relationship with parents (even those who start off very defensive or even aggressive) will pay off and can help the child in ways you couldn’t do without it.

So here are my top tips for working with parents.

  • Communicate. Communicate.  Communicate.  Plan this so it is manageable and set an agenda for chats if you need to.  I encourage schools to set a regular time to talk to parents about what their child is doing in school.  For example, every Thursday after school for ½ hour.  Or every 2 weeks for so many minutes.  Whatever time you can make or is available.  Email each other, but put safe boundaries in for you both to understand.  This can help prevent parents and teachers or TAs getting frustrated about when they can meet up and prevent getting into the habit of meeting EVERY afternoon which isn’t sustainable.  Some parents like a list of points they can prepare for, others just want to ‘offload’.  Remember you can’t solve all the problems they are having.  Often all they need is for someone to listen.   If you have agreed the timescale before-hand, make sure you give your full attention to them for that time you have promised.
  • When you talk to parents don’t make it a list of everything the child has done wrong.  Tell them important news about what’s happening in school, what their child has done well and celebrate excellent moments.  Many children with autism do not tell their parents anything about school.  School is school, home is home.   Some are too exhausted to recall what has been for them a stressful day, even when things have gone well.
  • Remember that parents do know their children best.   Ask, listen and learn from them.
  • Consider using a home-school diary.  Share bullet points about the events of the day and a general overview of the child’s positive moments.   If the child is non-verbal you could use a picture based record like the one below. 
  • Parents do need to know about serious incidents but these should be spoken about by phone or face to face rather than third hand (from other parents) or via the home-school book.
  • Invite parents to contribute the targets in the child’s IEP.  We used to have ways the parent could (if they wanted) generalise the target at home.  This was particularly useful for communication, social and independence targets.  
  • Find out where they can get extra help / support for issues that are beyond school.  A list of local support groups for a variety of SEND needs can be put on the schools website.
 

I’m sure there are many more ideas.  Please do share your good practice in the comments.  There’s too many parents of children with SEND /Autism who find school communication frustrating, patronising and difficult.  It doesn’t have to be.  And if it does break down because there is a parent who doesn’t want to work with school, then we stay professional and still do the right thing.  It’s our job. 

 
resource made by Lynn McCann @ReachoutASC

 

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

Help! I’ve Got a Child with Autism in My Class

Don’t panic

If you are getting an autistic child in your class for the first time this September, you may have heard many things about autism which makes you nervous about being able to meet the child needs within your class this year.  The first thing to remember is that every autistic child is different, has their own strengths as well as difficulties and with the right support can usually have a successful year in your class.

Here are 4 things you can do to start off your year with this child on the right footing:

1. LISTEN

To the parent who will be eager to tell you all about their child, what works for them, what upsets them and how it is for them at home.  This is important information and at the beginning of term it is quite okay just to listen and respond with a “I’m looking forward to getting to know your child.  Let’s meet again [at agreed date] and see what plans we can make for the rest of the year.”  Planned and structured meetings with parents can alleviate the anxieties they have and give you valuable information about the child.   Don’t forget to ask the parent about the child’s good points, interests and strengths.

2. READ IT

You will more than likely be given some information about the child from their previous teacher or from your SENCO.   There may be anything from one page to a file full of paperwork.  Make it your priority to READ the most up to date document.   Hopefully this will be an Educational Psychologists report and/or an Education, Health and Care Plan.  Read the All About Me section which will give you the views of the parent and child themselves.   If you  are given nothing else but a one-page pupil profile READ THIS.   For all the paperwork I advise you to get a highlighter and highlight the statements that you think will be most useful for you to know as you plan for the child in your lessons.

3. USE IT

Children with ASD need structure and predictability.  If you are advised or given a visual timetable for the child – It isn’t wallpaper,  it needs to be changed every day, the child needs to be able to take off each activity as it finishes and know that the day is going to end and when.   Visual timetables teach the child about order and sequencing, supports them to be able to organise themselves and supports the development of their memory and recall skills.  Imagining what something will be like, or worrying about how long they have, or what is going to happen in the day are really common challenges for children with autism.   A visual timetable and other visual supports can make all the difference to them engaging in the classroom activities and lessons.  See here for more about Visual timetables

4. INCLUDE IT

One of the best ways to motivate a child with autism is to link what they are doing to their special interests.  It can be in a reward chart of a TARDIS, lots of opportunities to write about their favourite topic, space in the day to indulge in a ‘topic box’ of items or toys that relate to their interests. Maths can be done through Lego, Beast Quest writing can cover English writing targets and Space can be linked to and illustrate all kinds of topics in the curriculum.   This works in primary and Secondary.   Be creative, and get the child on your side.  It does mean digressing from your carefully planned lessons, but think carefully about the learning target.  If it is to understand addition or quadratic equations – can it be made relevant to a pupil who finds school a great challenge and who has an area of great expertise that they are always being told they cannot talk about!

Of course, you want the child with Autism to engage in a variety of learning tasks and topics, but include and acknowledging their special interests or obsessions can build upon their strengths and make school that bit more successful for them.

This blog is going to answer questions about supporting pupils with autism, from teachers and support staff.   Ask your questions in the comments on each post, by using the contact form on this website or even just through Twitter or Facebook (@ReachoutASC or https://www.facebook.com/pages/Reachout-ASC-Autism-Support/613767255409671 )