Despite society as a whole becoming more aware of autism and what it is, a lot is still not known about the condition. And this can be worrying when searching for a school for your child, as you want them to learn in a space that is equipped to manage and support their needs.
For a lot of schools, it is a balancing act between wanting to create a learning environment that is fun, stimulating and dynamic, and being aware of the needs of those in their class for whom this kind of environment can be distressing. Getting it just right can be hard.
So what can schools do? How can they effectively help children with autism to learn and flourish whilst establishing a space that is suitable for all?
Step One: Spot the warning signs
There is no disputing that nurseries and primary schools play an important formative role in the education and development of children. It is within these first few years that teachers are best able to spot children who may need extra assistance.
And this is true of children with autism…
Within the first three years of their life, they are likely to display a range of developmental issues and behaviours that are indicators that they have autism.
For this reason, it is important that those working within nurseries and early year’s education take steps to be part of the diagnosis process. Whilst they may not qualified to diagnose or determine if a child has definitely got autism; they can provide the appropriate parties with evidence/feedback on how children react within the classroom. And this can be really beneficial for parents who are struggling to get their child diagnosed as their evidence can act as proof.
Step Two: Ensuring acceptance amongst peers and colleagues
Alongside broadening awareness of autism amongst staff and children, it is also important that you promote acceptance.
Autism can vary from one person to the next, and how one child displays symptoms can be very different to how another child does. A clear example of this is the differences between boys and girls. Both present very differently.
So how can you help?
- Peers – children with autism are often misunderstood and are regularly viewed by their peers as being different, resulting in bullying. By proactively raising awareness in school, and showing it in a positive light, this can help to increase tolerance and prevent bullying amongst children.
- Colleagues/staff – to help make classes accessible to all students, teachers and teaching assistants may have to alter the way they do some things. This can range from offering additional resources to changing the way they present the syllabus. In either case, offering extra training to staff can help to raise autism awareness and enable teachers to more effectively assist their class.
Step Three: Adopt innovative teaching
Alongside changing the way they teach, a lot of schools across the country are also taking steps to change their physical school environment to make it more welcoming to students with autism.
Even the smallest changes can make a massive difference. Take for instance noise. Even quiet sounds can often be unbearable for those with autism.
To help attain this innovative approach, schools not only need to achieve a greater understanding of what it is like for children with autism to attend school; they also need to appreciate how everyday things – things that we take for granted – can cause distress.
By broadening your knowledge on autism, you can implement changes that will make a real difference to how they engage and learn at school.
Step Four: Help them to prepare for the future
Autism is not a disorder that fades or disappears with time. A child with autism will one day become an adult. For that reason, it is important for schools to help them prepare for adulthood and life beyond their school walls, so that they can experience a rewarding and fulfilling life.
Step Five: Supporting families
As well as expanding awareness on autism, it is also important that schools work alongside parents and carers to help establish a routine that will both support and nurture children’s needs, as well as give them the education they deserve.
This can be achieved by working with health organisations and social services to build a strong framework of support, as well as offering assistance and guidance to their siblings (who are often overlooked).
Each of these steps can help to improve the learning experience of children with autism and ensure that their needs are not neglected. So why not try them today?
To learn more about how – as a teacher – you can strengthen your understanding of autism, why not take a look at our range of specialist online courses?