The right way to use Visual Timetables

I bet anyone whose ever had a specialist in to advise them how to support an autistic pupil has been told to use a visual timetable.   I bet it’s written down as a strategy in almost every statement or EHCP for autistic pupils.

You might have a visual timetable on your classroom wall.  You might remember to put up the schedule for the day, every day, and even to take off each picture as you finish each activity.   You might be remembering to do this for a child’s individual visual timetable.  Well done if you have.   However,  if you haven’t had them explained to you properly, it can easily seem as a lot of work for little reason…

Research shows that many autistic people struggle to understand the nuances of verbal language, processing language at the speed of a typical teacher speaking and understanding the inference of language.  Visual support enables the pace of instructions and information to be processed at their own pace and are available to go back to.   One of these is a visual timetable or schedule that sets out the routine and expectations of the day.

I’d like to help you understand the full purpose of a visual timetable.  It’s not just to let the child know what’s going on and in what order but it’s an important teaching tool. Here are some of the main teaching opportunities:

  • Developing memory and recall skills. Seeing the structure of the day can help with memory skills for children who think better in pictures than in verbal language.  The symbols can be retrieved from the ‘finished’ pocket to review the day and put things in time order.
  • Teaching organisation and independence skills.  The child should be managing their own timetable.   That means self-checking what they should be doing and where they should be, managing the taking off of the symbols and putting them in the finished pocket themselves.
  • Developing working memory skills – seeing what is on the timetable can make recalling what has been done in other lessons easier. This can be supported by a lesson schedule or subject diary.
  • Executive functions such as planning, predicting, monitoring and timing can sometimes be difficult for autistic pupils.  A visual timetable scaffolds those skills and most importantly the child can ‘self-check’ where they are up to.  If your memory is poor and your anxiety high, then a visual timetable is THERE and easy to check.  It doesn’t rely on the child having verbal skills or opportunity to ask an adult.
  • Less reliance on an adult prompt.  There can be a learned helplessness when a child gets too used to an adult verbally promoting them all the time.  This is why know how and where to check something for themselves is a good skill to have.  Especially thinking about them growing up and how there is likely to be less attention from an adult at Secondary school.
  • A visual timetable can also let the child know when their sensory breaks are or unexpected events or changes are happening.

I sometimes see visual timetables as wallpaper, and by that I mean, they are pretty pictures on the wall – but then sometimes the pictures are not even that day’s schedule and the child hasn’t been taught to manage the timetable themselves.  It can then be I am told “Oh, we tried a visual timetable but it didn’t work,” Or “They don’t need a visual timetable, they’ve grown out of it,”  but the pupil still has poor independence and organisation skills.

Visual timetables grow with the child.  They should be age and developmentally appropriate.   I have one – It’s a full term calendar on one sheet that I write in all my school visits, INSET sessions and meetings. It’s visual and I’d be very anxious (not to mention, totally lost) without it.  Diaries and lists provide a similar visual aid to my life and how it is organised (or not!).  If we want autistic pupils to be able to develop good organisation skills, a visual timetable can be a great start.  Choose the right format for the child and you will get it right.  We might start with objects of reference, use photos or symbols or colour coded words, and  the format can develop as the child does.  Sometimes teachers thing a child doesn’t need it anymore and take it away.   Then the child’s behaviour and independence can begin to deteriorate.   It is often the case that what they needed was an updated timetable rather than taking it away.  It can surprise us how much the child was relying on their visual timetable.  It is ok to have one all their lives – as they get older we teach them to self-manage their timetable more and develop their own formats if necessary.  Like we do as adults with our diaries and lists.

AND IT DOES NOT MATTER WHETHER IT IS HORIZONTAL OR VERTICAL!   Let’s dispel this myth, once and for all.  Use whatever fits into your space and what the pupil can easily use.   I have known staff who have worried about this so much because one professional said do it one way and another said do it the other way, that they didn’t actually start using the visual timetable for weeks because they were so worried about getting it wrong.

Thank you for this image from www.northstarpaths.com

To share an example.  Over the years I’ve worked with some pupils who were at risk of being excluded for behaviour.  A visual timetable used to show them the lessons, ‘calm or choice times’, sensory breaks and, most importantly, when home time is, has regularly (along with other strategies) made a huge impact in helping the child navigate the day, reduce stress and anxiety and therefore reduce challenging behaviours.   Honestly, it can sometimes be the pivotal strategy that makes all the difference for the child.

If you want to know more, there are lots more advice and examples in my  book ‘How to support pupils with ASC In Primary Schools’ published by LDA. 

I have Widgit ‘Communicate in Print’ software which I love for not only making visual timetables but also for supporting a pupil’s writing, reading and curriculum access.  

But here are my favourite websites for free visual timetable symbols…

https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/widgit-symbols-for-visual-timetables-3002512

http://www.twinkl.co.uk/resources/visual-timetables

A week in the life – Specialist Autism Teacher

Many of you will receive a visit or receive a report from a specialist teacher at some point.   Emma and I work on building relationship with our schools so that the teachers see us as a support and resource for them as well as someone who can help their pupils.  We love to encourage and help the SENCOs too,  as we understand the aspects of their job that others in the school rarely do.   That’s the benefit of the way we work with schools, regular half termly, monthly or weekly visits (depending on needs and funding) means we know the school, the children and their families and the staff – and they know us really well over time.

So what is a typical week for a Specialist Autism Teacher?

A typical week for me would consist of visits to 4 or 5 different schools.  I try to space them out so I have time to prepare any resources or activities before I go and time to write up the visit and any reports afterwards.

I work differently in primary schools than in secondary schools but I love the variety.

This week I went to one primary school for a whole day.  There are 5 pupils with ASD diagnoses and a couple more pupils who we are supporting and keeping an eye on.  So, I meet with the children and their teachers, we discuss the progress since my last visit (all recorded on their action plan) and then look at how we can move on.  We decide what we want to achieve with the child’s input and I will suggest strategies and resources where needed.  I wrote a social story with one child and he’s going to find some pictures to go with it with his teaching assistant.  With one teacher we planned how to go about explaining puberty;  I had two meetings with Y5 parents about choosing the next steps for KS3, reviewed a sensory diet and planned some communication work with another child.  The autism chat continued over lunch as I ate my sandwiches with the staff in the staffroom (they like to get all their questions in while I’m there!);  a quick catch up with the SENCO and a chat about the paperwork for an EHCP application and the day was done. Each child and their staff is left with an updated action plan (when I’ve typed them up in the next couple of days) and I will see them again next half term.

I visited 3 secondary schools this week.  I work more directly with the children with ASD themselves in groups or individually.  Most of my schools send me an update before I go so that I can go prepared with activities and resources.  I’ve done Lego Therapy, Social games, used Emotion Works to help with some difficult issues and behaviours (finding out what’s really happening) made a CAMHS referral, taught a child about their sensory system, taught some Somerset Thinking Skills and helped a child design a Liverpool Football Club mood diary (at his request!).   One school I go to weekly, another every 3 weeks and the other monthly.   Each pupil or group gets an action plan and I make what resources I can for them, so the time in my office after the visits are busy too.  I’ve spoken to teaching assistants and subject teachers and attended department meetings to ensure the best support across the school.  And, of course, I meet with parents so I build that relationship with them too.  Working for myself affords me the luxury of not having to stay at the schools till home time or for afterschool meetings, so I plan in my admin time to keep up with the paperwork (that’s the theory – I have yet to be totally on top of paperwork!)   This week I have 2 Annual Review reports and a report to support an EHCP application to write as well, so my laptop is on fire!

I’ve also done a home visit to a pupil who is school-refusing, working with them and their parents on making a plan to return to education.  This isn’t a quick-fix job.  We are doing a lot of work about anxiety and communication and through Lego and other interests we are slowly building a positive relationship.

Most weeks I do some training.  Last week I delivered a L3 Next Steps Autism course for teachers and this week I’m hosting Claire Murray who is delivering her amazing Emotion Works resources that we use all the time and that I wrote about here.   Next week I’ll be doing the second twilight INSET session for a school I visited before Christmas.

Sounds busy doesn’t it!  I’m also continually learning and developing my autism courses, liaising with Emma who is our other specialist teacher and Meriel our administrator.  I’ve written some magazine articles and this blog while my hubby is watching football on TV.   Some weeks I do something completely different or unusual and I love that.   I’ve always got ideas and plans rushing around my head.

One thing is for sure,  every week is different and the core of what we do is working with our schools and their pupils with ASD to make school better.

 

Reading a Social Story with a pupil.
Shared on www.someonesmum.co.uk for Spectrum Sunday blogshare

Autism and Group Interactions

I have an autistic friend who is a maths teacher (amongst her other talents). She has a great way of explaining what being autistic is like and we often talk about the apparent anomaly between her confidence in speaking to someone 1:1 or to a whole group of students, as opposed to being in a group or party situation with lots of people to interact with. I love how she describes it….

By Hilary

On a one to one, there is, well, one interaction. When another joins in then there are 6 potential interactions, because there is each person interacting with each of the other two so that is 3 interactions, plus each person’s interaction with the other 2, when the other 2 act as one in some way, eg opinion, agreement, etc. So 6 in total.

Now, there is an easy way to work out the number of interactions for a given number of people.   If there are 3 people then we simply need to multiply 3 by 2 by 1 = 6 This is written as 3! The exclamation mark is known as a factorial sign.    So then one more person joins…now there are 4! Potential interactions which = 4 * 3 * 2 * 1 = 24   This may possibly be about my limit but mostly if I am one of the 4 people, but it’s still a big challenge because now I am feeling all the unspoken undercurrents that 24 potential interactions produces.    Throw into this several different personality types and possible tension between 2 or more of the people and it’s possible to see how a storm can quickly brew of unspoken emotions, thoughts, etc.

However, I generally hang on in there, but know I’ll pay the price with exhaustion and several recovery days where I avoid as much social interaction as possible. (Just a note to add that I do of course sometimes ‘do’ social groups with friends I know well or am comfortable with, as a trusted group of friends makes a huge difference, as does having a focus such as, having a meal with friends, and because I am already familiar with the types of interactions which happen and the whole experience is less exhausting. the better I know people in the group, the easier it is, generally.   I still don’t ‘do’ social events and social groups often though.)

Now, a fifth person comes along, and this basically explodes in my head. 5!   Potential interactions, that is 5*4*3*2*1 = 120  undercurrents which are cross-firing what is actually being said…add in a few looks, glances, smiles, frowns, tones of voice, buttings in, and there you have it,   I’m gone, looking for the kettle and a quiet corner and maybe one person I know well enough to have a nice quiet brew with or better still friends’ cat(s) who totally understand and retreated to quiet corners already.    Add one more person…and now the potential number of interactions rises exponentially… 6!    That’s 6*5*4*3*2*1 = 720 7 people, 7! = 7*720 = 5040 potential interactions.

What generally happens though, is that the limit of a useful group is probably 4, though 3 is in my opinion better still.   At 5, usually the quieter people give way to the more verbal, and melt into the background either gratefully or in some frustration.   So this curbs the actual number of interactions, but not by much due to the unspoken emotions which flow like wifi among the group.   I have come to realise that it must be an acute awareness of these ridiculous number of interactions, with equal awareness of the accompanying undercurrents that make the whole group experience feel to me as if I were being slapped in the face every nanosecond.   The huge difference between a social group of say 5 people and a group which has gathered for a specific focus on say a film or lecture or even in some sense to play some sort of game or sport, is that if there is one focus that the group has then immediately it is in reality a one to one situation – almost, with each person in the group interacting mainly on the focus, and all 5 people also acting as one person interacting with the focus.    Giving a public lecture, teaching or speaking to an audience is in reality a one to one situation, so, poses no threat.    This is why teaching, speaking is no problem, or being taught etc., but groups – where’s the kettle.

How can we help? 

Now in a classroom there are often way more than 7 people to interact with!  Often we ask children to work in groups and then expect them to know how to get on with it and work together.  For an autistic child this can be a nightmare. Not only have they the amount of interactions to attend to and switch their attention to, there is often intolerable background noise from other groups and many other sensory demands.

 In a school I often suggest that the teacher supports the autistic child to work with just one other person. In a pair, they can be much more successful in sharing ideas and the task to get it completed. You may need to teach or structure the task in a way that each child knows what their role is and what they are expected to do or produce.  Learning to listen to each other and deal with differences of opinion or ideas is a challenge in itself (for both children in the pair). Many secondary children nI work with say that school life would be much better if teachers would let them work in a pair on shared tasks, rather than making them work in a group.  Please consider what Hilary says about groups and the number of interactions when you are planning shared tasks to do in your lessons.  And make sure the person who they work with is someone who will work well with them.  Some children will get better at working in groups that are calm and well structured, others may take all their effort just to work with one other person right through to the end of their school days.  

So here for you is a visual about how you can support partner work in your classroom. (Full social story can be downloaded below)

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​ ​ â€‹This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Thinking about your autism pupils afresh

Christmas and the end of the autumn term was more than likely an extra stressful time for the child or children with autism in your class.   As I wrote in this article, there would have been lots of extra changes and sensory overload as well as unpredictable events.  Some children with autism do like Christmas and I hope that all of them had a good holiday at home, but it’s likely for some that it was just as stressful, and for many of the same reasons.

A new term is a good opportunity for you to look afresh at your pupils and review where they are up to after their first term in your class.   I don’t mean by looking at their academic data (as I’m sure that this will be a feature of your planning this term) but by putting that aside and looking at the whole child you may find some helpful insights to enable you to make the rest of the school year successful for them.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself.

Do you know what the child’s favourite activities are?

Can you list all the subjects they enjoy?

Who are their friends, do they have any friends?

How do they react/interact when other children approach them?

What things does the child notice during lessons?

What would they be doing if they could choose to do anything at all?

What have they got better at?

Can they follow your routines and general class instructions?

Have you had any autism training?

Do you understand how their autism affects them?

Can you list their strengths?

Do you know how their senses interact with the world?

Some of these questions might be easy to answer, some of them may need more investigation.  What will be telling, is that if you, as their class teacher know very few of these answers, then you have not got to know the child at all.

  • Maybe you’ve been relying on a teaching assistant to know the child well and differentiate the work for them?
  • Maybe you’ve had a busy term and don’t feel that you are on top of your SEND support in class?
  • Maybe you feel that you don’t understand autism, the child’s behaviour has overwhelmed you and you are out of your depth?
  • Maybe the child seems to be doing ok and is getting by, but you still can’t answer many of these questions?

A teacher is a teacher of all the children in their class.  The 2014 Code of Practice states that ALL teachers are teachers of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).   We can argue that there is more training needed (and in autism it can really help) but in the end, nothing can be as good as really knowing your pupil.   And to do that, YOU should spend time with them, YOU should teach them (not just the TA) and YOU should build a good relationship with parents so that you know how the child lives their life out of school.

The best way to build a relationship with a child with autism is to find out what they enjoy, what they are interested in and what are their strengths.  Then share some time with them engaged in those things.  A child with autism often finds the school day intensely demanding, leading them to experience a lot of stress.  Be a teacher who joins them in a favourite activity (not taking over but letting them lead) and share their special interests.  Do this for a short time each day and it will usually help you both get to know each other.   Don’t talk too much, don’t make demands.   Listen to them and the different ways they communicate.

Then the child will become a whole person to you, not just a set of data statistics.

Emma and I practice this at all times. The way to work with our pupils with autism is through getting to know them and how autism affects them.  We have to be creative and flexible, patient and carefully choose our words, or phrase our interactions.  Our greatest moments are when through Lego, chickens, Harry Potter, Pokemon or Patterns, we have connected with a child and they begin to explain to us what autism is like for them.  From that we can build an education support system that brings out the chance of success for them.  It’s an ever changing, ever developing support system reacting to how they grow and change through the years, but in the end it is bespoke for each child, despite there being some general good-practice strategies that we use.  It’s why, when we do training, we ask people to gather information about the child they know, so that they can develop a personalised plan that might be suitable for them, rather than just use generic strategies that may not be right at that time.

So, if you’d like a resolution for 2017 and the new term, please consider resolving to get to know your SEND / Autism pupils for real.   You’ll be surprised at how your intuition about how to support them will grow with this knowledge.

  • Don’t leave it to a TA, but work together and teach the pupil yourself whilst the TA is teaching something to other pupils.
  • Use their interests to engage them in things they might find uninteresting   (I once had a pupil writing about Beast Quest for two terms and he went from writing nothing to writing pages and pages of good quality texts).
  • Build that relationship with parents.  Ask them to teach you about their child’s autism.  You may need to structure the meetings or use email but it can be really helpful for both.  Don’t feel you have to solve all their problems but they may have some good ideas you can try.
  • Ask for training if you haven’t had any.  But remember to ask questions relating to the child you teach rather than thinking all of it will be relevant to them at once.

I will just mention my book. I hope you’d expect me to in my own blog posts!  It’s out now and can be pre-ordered from LDA Learning, my publishers.

I’ve written it as a handbook that you can dip into to help you along the way, indeed throughout the child’s primary years.  It’s arranged developmentally from early years to Y6 but takes into account that children with autism don’t always develop in a linear fashion, you can dip into it at whatever stage your child is at, whatever age.  It’s full of practical advice and strategies and helps you understand autism from a child with autisms’ point of view.

I hope you’ll find it really helpful – but as I said above – nothing is as good as getting to know the child themselves.

Supporting mental health for primary age pupils with SEND

 
My Worry Eater – http://sorgenfresser.com

 

When I was asked to do a two hour presentation on this topic I knew it wouldn’t be straight forward.  Mental health is in itself a complex condition, we are all human and all complex in our physical and mental health.  But as we want to build up and develop good habits to look after our physical bodies, then we also should want to do the same for our mental wellbeing.   So I had to ask; what do mainstream class teachers need to know and what advice could I give them that they can implement in their classrooms?

There is so much written about the pressures and stresses on our children these days.  There’s the curriculum and testing regimes in our schools, family breakdown and of course, the great evil of our time,  technology (well, some would believe it) and a 24/7 never switched off, never quiet world where news of disasters and death are available constantly and replicated in video games.  Only yesterday this article was reported in the Guardian about how many children were needing mental health support.

No why we don’t just ease off some of these pressures, you know, change things, switch things off, redesign schooling so there’s breaks and less pressure, who knows?   But the truth is, that all children are bombarded by pressures and events that seem to be leading to the biggest mental health crisis ever known.

Children with SEND, as usual, are not often considered in the first wave of action. Despite the fact that they have more chance of becoming mentally ill.  As I have researched writing my course it hasn’t been easy to find much that considers SEND children and their risk or treatment when they have mental illness.  There’s a few bits (and much more about autism than other SEND) but I have found what I could and thanks to charities such as Scope and the NAS as well as YoungMinds, as well as others, I have put together a resource list that you can download below.   (There is so much I am learning and dealing with practically in my day to day work that I couldn’t put it all in this course.  I have plenty to write about in other posts this coming year.)

When the risk is greater for our SEND children the reasons and identification become much more complex.  There is no easy way for teachers to identify whether a primary child has a mental illness (and they cannot diagnose at all),  but there should be training and awareness so that SEND children can be identified as at risk and support and intervention given early enough.  The complexity comes from the relationship between their SEND and their mental health.  Children who

  • have constant struggles,
  • often fail,
  • are punished regularly for poor behaviour,
  • who are highly anxious most of the time,
  • who are socially isolated,
  • who can’t do what everyone else seems to be able to do,
  • who think and experience the world differently,
  • who are taken out of the class for ‘interventions and
  • are made aware that they are different from everyone else;

will be more at risk from mental illness.  And I haven’t even touched on the complexities of the relationship between anxiety disorders, personality disorders, psychosis, depression and SEND conditions.

The key for me is for teaching staff to know their SEND children really, really well.  Getting to know their strengths and interests and building a relationship through these.  Making a lot of effort to understand how their condition affects them,  because every child with autism, Down’s Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, visual impairment, hearing impairment, ADHD is different.  DO get some training on the condition but make sure you do not assume you know how the child is affected or how they feel about it.  And please implement the support that is outlined on their EHCP if they have one.  Unmet needs can be one of the biggest factors in poor mental health of primary children.   My work with PRUs have shown that.   Added to unmet needs is often rejection, exclusion, and being labelled as a troublemaker.   (And we could learn a lot from the excellent mental wellbeing support strategies in PRUs!)

Resilience is talked about all the time these days.   Whether it’s ‘character building’ or ‘growth mindset’, ‘learning power’ or ‘mindfulness’.  All these things sound great except that teachers are bombarded with so much of it that it is easy to feel that children’s whole survival in this life, depends on them.  But we must also consider how we are using these themes with SEND children.   Nancy Gedge wrote a thoughtful post on how Growth Mindset might actually be harming children with SEND .

So as I wrote my course I started with some facts and information that I thought the audience would need to know.  I was told to assume that there would be a wide range of teachers there from SENCOs to supply teachers and NQTs and so the course has to cover some basic foundations.  The most important parts of the session were the group discussions.  These enabled those there to share their own experiences but also to challenge and think about their SEND pupils and their needs that could be quite different from the rest of the class.  The sample case studies enabled teachers to really think about what information they needed to find out and consider before jumping to conclusions.  We concluded that we just couldn’t come to any conclusions and that training and knowing where to get help was very important.  After that,I wanted to give the teachers there some ideas about how they could support general mental health and wellbeing in their classrooms with a few key ideas.   Finally,I wanted teachers to remember to look after their own and their colleagues mental health.   Which was a good opportunity to share the #teacher5aday twitter hashtag and Martyn Reah’s blog  www.martynreah.wordpress.com/2014/12/06/teacher5aday/

I didn’t have the time to cover every idea, but these were things that were inclusive and in my experience, have enabled children with SEND to build up positive relationships and acceptance of their differences.  These things will need continually supporting, especially as they move on to secondary school.  But that is why I insisted that the secondary and primary MH sessions be separate.   Once we hit puberty…well…that will have to wait for another blog post!

If you attended the course the handout is an attachment at the foot of this post. It will remain on the website for 2 weeks and then be taken down.  The resource list will remain for others to download after that.  If you did not attend the course and want to download the handout – please be aware that much of what was covered was verbal and these notes are just information we shared.

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Why Whole School Autism Training is Money Well Spent

​ I first heard the term ‘autism’ in 2003.  I was an early years teacher at the time and the class list for the new year informed me that I had three statemented children, two who had autism, one with cerebral palsy and a couple of children who were under investigation for global development delay.  By then I had been teaching for 12 years, been trained in SEN and had always been interested in supporting pupils with SEN.  These children had teaching assistants assigned to them, we considered ourselves a well organised with an inclusive environment and I was really looking forward to getting to know the children and meeting their needs.  But it turned out a little more difficult than we anticipated…

Lynn delivering “Let’s Talk Autism” to a whole Primary School staff

​The first thing we noticed was that the two children with autism were completely different and I need to admit we found them quite a challenge.  The slightest thing would cause one of the children to spend the rest of the day screaming and trying to escape, the other child didn’t like anything to change and was very good at explaining to us what he didn’t like and all about his particular interests….but very loudly…all the time!   He too would often get upset and find it difficult to join in activities with other children.   Both children were very active and their teaching assistants were often exhausted by the end of the day.

I admit that I fell into the mistake that many teachers make;  it was just easier to let the teaching assistants (who were in fact brilliant, well experienced and very capable people) get on with it, while I concentrated on the other 25+ children in the class.  However, I could see that my staff were struggling.   The screams and behaviours of the two children with autism were disrupting the rest of the class and the strategies we were trying to use were just not working.

Salvation came in the form of a couple of twilight sessions from the local child development centre.   We were taught what autism was and some amazing communication strategies based on Hanen’s ‘More Than Words’ which made something click with me and began a long fascination with autism that has led on to all kinds of wonderful things (more of that later!)

Being inclusive minded, we put the strategies into effect immediately and with all the children.  We were adapted our environment and communication, were consistent, used visual teaching methods and traffic lights for behaviour (as communication not punishment) and slowed down to give the children processing time.   We were amazed by the effects.   Within two weeks the whole class was calmer, the staff were energised and able to deal quickly with incidents and most importantly the children with autism began to get involved in learning activities and with the rest of the class.   The children themselves seemed to take our lead and began to approach the children with autism more confidently (especially as there was less risk of being hurt) and friendships began to be built.

All these years later I’ve kept in touch with those two autistic children.  One of them moved to a special school after the year with us and it was maybe 5 years later that a member of staff there shared with me how he’d started to talk and how proud they were of him.  The other child has gone through his mainstream education and is now in Y11.  His teachers and parents agree with me, the element that has been very effective in making school successful for him is that teachers who have worked with him understand autism and are prepared to get to know how it affects him.

Me…I was still inspired and fascinated by autism.   I sought a new job in a special school for children with autism, became trained and experienced in teaching children with autism, set up an outreach service from the school and began supporting pupils with autism in mainstream schools.   One aspect of my job was to write and deliver training courses about autism.  

Then I began to visit schools whose staff had been on my courses or who had had whole school INSET and began to notice a few things…

​Strategies
that I had recommended were being used consistently and were making a positive impact on the child and their access to learning.

Teachers
and teaching assistants were working more as a team and felt more empowered to help the child, even with challenging behaviour.

Where
whole school training had taken place, the child with autism was accepted and supported across the school, teachers and teaching assistants felt more supported and the child was generally accessing school activities
(such as playtimes, assemblies and the dinner hall) more successfully.

Parents
felt that their child was supported better and that staff knowledge was making a positive impact on their child’s education. Staff communicated better and more positively to parents.

When
whole school training had taken place, staff could see how the strategies could be applied to many other children with and without autism because they were mainly about good, clear communication.

Some
staff became much more inclusive and used some of the strategies for their whole class. Whole class visual timetables were particularly effective.

Teachers
were now more confident in adapting and differentiating their teaching for the child with autism.

Staff
were more confident in explaining to the other children in their class how to be friends, work alongside and support their classmate with autism.

Classroom
and school environments were changed. Some became less cluttered and calmer, sensory areas were created, social skills groups set up and one school even had visual signs all around school.

Whole
school training that paid teaching assistants and welfare assistants to attend was the most successful of all.

Our main course can be focussed on Early Years, Primary or Secondary

​ It is clear that the real beneficiaries of this training are the children themselves.   I loved it and autism is still my passion and favourite subject.   I now work as an independent autism support teacher/consultant as “Reachout ASC” and have Matt and Emma working with me.  We are continuing to build up our training courses to support and equip staff to make school successful for their autistic pupils. We regularly work in schools, teaching and implementing advice and strategies and have worked with hundreds of children;  every one of them different.   We work in EYS settings, Primary Schools and Secondary Schools and have adapted all our courses to reflect each setting.   It has to be relevant!   We pride ourselves on equipping staff with the knowledge, skills and resources they need and in making school successful for pupils with ASC. 

For the pupils – staff understanding of autism has been the most effective strategy of all. 

To find out more look at the training tab on my webpage www.reachoutasc.com/training 

Is Peer Mentoring the Answer?

​Lately We’ve been listening to a lot of teenagers who struggle with school.  The ones we know are usually ASC students and struggle with social relationships, organisation, sensory issues and find school enormously challenging.  Especially in mainstream schools. This can be enormously isolating for them.  One of the things we like to try is finding them a peer mentor.  An older student or mixed age student group seems to work well, as they have the advantage of having been through some similar difficulties already.  If the mentor has ASC too, it can benefit them both.  But how do you organise a peer mentoring so that it IS successful…

photo curtesy of https://pixabay.com/

​Here’s an account of one school that has taken Peer Mentoring seriously. @LaurenCasey_LMC works at a mainstream school in Barking, Essex and writes about her experiences so far…

Peer Mentoring

Mentoring has been part of school life for a number of years now, however, this year it was decided that the SEND department would try peer mentoring and have different year groups mixed in.

At first, this idea was given a mixed review – some staff said it would be too difficult, some staff questioned how tasks could be done as different year groups have different needs;  I, on the other hand, welcomed the change and put my  “let’s give this a go”  head on.

We have been back to school now 5 weeks and have had mentoring for 4 of those weeks.  It only happens once a week, for 20 minutes and is a compulsory session. I have two years groups mixed together;  for me it’s year 9 and year 10.  We are currently making a ‘getting to know me’ poster – we brainstormed all together what should go on the poster, I typed it up and it is in each student’s folder so they know, when they walk into my classroom, what they have to get on with.  The laptops are out, the radio is on and their folders are on the desks…it’s quite a chilled out 20 minutes.

School also introduced a points system so good behaviour is awarded positive points and bad behaviour is awarded negative points – obviously the number of points varies on the behaviour.   So one of my noticeboards in my classroom is dedicated to mentoring.  All the student’s names are on the board with their points next to their name – I’ve also made a little rosette for 1st place.  This has also had a positive effect of the students as they encourage each other along. One student, this week, finally moved herself out of negative points and was congratulated by her peers.  Our ‘leader’ was also congratulated and a bit of light hearted banter enthused everyone when I said he could have 3 weeks off school to let everyone catch up.

One of my mentees had an issue with lateness.  He came to sit in my ‘hot-seat’ so we could discuss this and he told me the bus he gets on is sometimes too packed so he has to wait.   Before I had a chance to say anything or work with him to think of ways to overcome this, my group of mentees were asking him which bus stop he goes to, explaining to him the other buses that go to that stop, where he could get off the bus to get to school…the list was endless.  I was extremely proud of all my mentees that day and when I looked at the student he had a big heart melting smile across his face.  He struggles to make friends and is normally a very shy young man.  You could see the thought process happening – these people are actually trying to help me and they aren’t being mean.   Needless to say, he hasn’t been late to school or for any lesson since last Wednesday which is a massive achievement – especially as we have only been back 5 weeks and he was already top of the late list with a total of 13 lates!

So all in all, yes peer mentoring does work. Embrace it and watch before your very eyes how wonderful young people can be.

photo curtesy of https://pixabay.com/

​Thanks Lauren for this interesting account.  We look forward to seeing how it develops over the year.

What we’d like to do at Reachout ASC is put together some resources and advice for our schools on how to support and develop Peer Mentoring.  What ideas and experiences have you had that you could share here? 

There are some obvious questions such as: 

  • ​How do you choose peers that will build positive and balanced relationships?
  • What choice does the mentored pupil have in choosing who they want to have mentoring them? 
  • Do groups like Lauren’s work better than 1:1 mentoring?  

I’m sure you will all be able to add more things we need to consider. 

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