Axcis, our fantastic exclusive sponsors, have kindly agreed to contribute to a quarterly blog for the site. Axcis is the leading supplier of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) staff in England and Wales. In this first blog, Emily Marbaix, content manager for Axcis Education discusses why understanding autism is key to supporting autistic students in education.
Understanding autism in the classroom
Towards the end of 2017, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, with support from Axcis and the National Autistic Society, ran an inquiry looking into how the education system is working for autistic pupils. One of the key findings was that:
6 in 10 young people and seven in ten of their parents say that the main thing that would make school better for them is having a teacher who understands autism.
It is therefore of the utmost importance that we understand autism if we want to effectively support these children in class. But how can we do that?
What is autism?
Autism can be defined as a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them. But is a definition enough? Clearly not! Having a basic definition does not give us the understanding of what it’s like to be autistic, and the tools to better support those autistic children in our classrooms.
Creating an autism friendly classroom
Teachers and members of school support staff can find a wealth of hints and tips via our website to make their classroom more autism friendly, and although this can help, it’s still not the same as understanding autism.
Robyn Steward, a well known voice in the autistic community, has run autism awareness training for us here at Axcis. She opens her seminars with the phrase:
Once you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.
And this is where the problem lies for many people who are trying to understand autism. The individual needs for each child can vary hugely.
So can you really make your classroom autism-friendly? The answer is yes, by tailoring support to individuals and their needs. For example, one autistic child might find bright light unsettling, while another might find posters on the walls too distracting. What is important is to consult with children and their families directly in order to ensure that your classroom is suitable for their individual situation. Autistic children cannot simply be lumped together as all having the same needs.
Having a definition, and creating an autism friendly classroom are useful, but they still don’t allow us to really understand autism. So how can teachers and members of school support staff to go that one step further and really get to grips with what it’s actually like to live with autism? There are a number of things which could be worth trying out. Such as:
Get to know your students
Discuss what they enjoy, what they find difficult, how best you could help support them and adjust your teaching and the environment to best support them. Try and get a feel for what it’s like for them to be in a busy classroom and how they express themselves when things get too much. It will help you to understand what they find challenging, and as a result will better equip you to provide support and adapt your approach to better support them access education.
Virtual Reality and Videos
There are now some fantastic resources at our disposal to help us to better understand autism. These include watching videos, such as the Diverted film which was created as part of the National Autistic Society’s Too Much Information campaign.
You could also try out the 360 degree virtual reality version of the film for a more immersive sense of what it can be like to have autism.
Training and insight
Doing some further autism training will also help you to become a more effective practitioner. At Axcis, we often run autism awareness seminars in the evening for our candidates and clients, and we also sponsored the production of a series of completely free webinars about autism. There is also a wealth of interviews from leading autism professionals that we have also sponsored as part of our relationship with Network Autism. Or if you’re looking for some more formal training, there are lots of courses available from our friends at the National Autistic Society.
One final thought to finish this article – once you have taken the time to better understand autism, why not encourage others at your setting to do the same? In this way, we can spread good practice and ensure that children have a positive experience in all of their classrooms – not just yours.
Date added: 25 April 2018