Slowly, we are beginning to understand more about autism and how it affects children.
School has an important part in supporting children with autism and their families. Likewise, with greater awareness and understanding, schools are better placed to support children with autism. Find out how schools do this.
Autism is something we are hearing more about. With more people taking notice, discussion and dialogue about what autism is and how children and adults can be better supported is bringing about much-needed change.
But there is still a lot we don’t understand about autism. For schools, dealing with, managing and supporting children with autism has long presented a balancing act. On one hand, every school wants to make their learning environment fun, stimulating and dynamic but for a child with autism, these three things can be what they least need.
Schools have a big role to play so just how are they helping students with autism?
Spot warning signs
Nursery education and primary years are important formative years in the education and development of a child. Most children with autism will display a range of developmental issues and behaviours in the first three years of life.
There is no cure and the symptoms don’t ‘get better’. For nursery educators and early years teachers, they can be part of the diagnosis mechanisms.
This doesn’t mean that teachers or teaching assistants are qualified to determine who is autistic and where on the autistic spectrum they are. But they can provide evidence and feedback on how children react to certain stimuli in the classroom.
Often, it is the parents who understand that ‘something is not quite right’ and have to push hard for a diagnosis. Teachers and school can be part of supporting this process.
Create better acceptance amongst peers and colleagues
Autism awareness in school is essential for promoting acceptance too.
Autism affects people differently. How one student displays symptoms is very different to how another child does. Boys present autism differently to girls, although our understanding of this is only just beginning to come to the fore.
- Peers – children with autism are often misunderstood and bullied as a result of ‘being different’. A school taking a proactive approach to raising autism awareness in a positive light can make a huge difference in promoting tolerance.
- Colleagues – teachers and teaching assistants may have to change the way they do some things in order to make learning in the classroom accessible to all students. This could mean extra resources but there is no denying that training is essential for raising autism awareness in schools.
There are many schools across the country who are taking steps to change the physical school environment to accommodate and welcome students with autism, as well as changing how they teach.
To truly understand what it is like for a child with autism to attend school, we need to understand what it is like to be locked in a world where the smallest sound can be unbearable.
To support national autism week, the Autism Speaks has produced powerful videos that offer a glimpse into what it is like for some people with autism to do everyday things that we take for granted. From walking along the street to being in a café, there are so many things that can cause distress to someone with autism.
Small changes and adaptations to the school environment, as well as how teaching staff and colleagues interact with an autistic child, can make all the difference.
Prepare students for a world beyond school walls
At some point, a child with autism grows up to be an adult with autism. It is not a disorder that fades with time, it is not a phase or something that a child grows out of.
A child with autism is a child with a future and school can play a big part in the process of readying them for life beyond its walls. Both ‘special schools’ and mainstream schools have a part in helping a student with autism to go on and live a fulfilling life.
Schools work with parents and carers to establish a routine that helps, supports and nurtures their students.
But autism awareness in school extends further than you think. From providing support for the siblings of a child with autism to working with parents, carers, health organisations and social services to give every child the education they deserve and need to become well-rounded adults.