Autism Awareness Week: How to improve support in schools

Things you should know about Autism:

  • This month is Autism Awareness month, a month long event that helps raise awareness and improve support for people with autism.
  • The People-First Language (PFL) mentioned in the Disability Act requires that you use the ‘People’ first and the ‘Disability’ second. For example: instead of referring to a person as autistic, you would instead say ‘person with autism’. This is because it implies autism is something a person has and not something they are.
  • According to the National Autistic Society, approximately 700,000 children and adults in the UK have autism.

Strategies such as SPELL and TEACHH frameworks are being used in schools which prioritise understanding the autonomy of autism, appreciating the ‘strengths and uniqueness‘ of autism, and raising awareness to others who may not understand the culture of autism. The TEACHH method is designed for students of all ages and aims to integrate visual learning in academic activities to improve developmental and behavioural issues. The SPELL framework opts for a communication based approach that explores the underlying issues and emotional context. This stands for Structure, Positive Approaches, Empathy, Low Arousal, and Links. 

Support for Autism in Education

However, many teachers and parents believe there is not being enough done to support students with autism. There are many challenges that students face that are heightened by the environment they learn in. People on the autism spectrum cope better when there is structure and an uninterrupted routine as they can face challenges in unpredictable circumstances. Although you may think your classroom routine runs like clockwork, there are certain elements such as playtime and lunchtime that create challenging situations for students. To support these students you can offer break and lunchtime clubs to help add more structure at playtime, supervision with staff who have had autism awareness training, and offer a quiet zone for students who can get overwhelmed.

Bad acoustics in classrooms, dining areas, and sports whole increase the impact of sensory dysfunction which is a common trait of autism. With budget cuts in schools increasing, it becomes more difficult for schools to cater to the needs of students living with a disability. According to the National Autistic Society, ‘63% of children on the autism spectrum are not in the kind of school their parents believe would best support them’.

We asked the Twitter community if they think there is enough support for students with autism and if they think there is enough being done to raise awareness in schools, the majority (75%) answered no, with the remaining saying ‘no, but it is improving’ (25%).

Source: TeacherBoards Twitter

Misconceptions

  • Some people think that people with autism aren’t interested in building friendships but this isn’t the case. Some people may struggle with social skills but like any other friendship you can learn to understand each others needs, likes, and dislikes to help build a lasting relationship.
  • Another common misconception is that people with autism have an intellectual disability, again this is untrue. Autism is a spectrum condition which means people will be affected in different ways. It may be that people with autism face more challenges in the learning environment but many students are able to excel in subject and have normal to high IQs.
  • The idea that autism only affects children and young people is false. Autism affects people throughout their whole lives, and although it is more common in men, it also affects women.

How You Can Get Involved

The National Autistic Society offer a workplace assessment as part of their Brain in Hand project, this is a support app that aims to ‘help young people to reduce anxieties and grow vital independence skills’. You can read more about it on here. With many teachers, student, and parents saying there is not enough awareness or support available for children and young people with autism, taking these steps and having mandatory training sessions for staff are part of conquering any challenges you may face. The Autism Education Trust has a booklet for parents on working together with your child’s school that you can download for free here. This downloadable booklet helps identify information and characteristics in terms of your child and their education. This gives your school information on what to prioritise, their behaviours, sensory dysfunctions, and preferred environments to help create a safe and pleasant learning environment for students with autism.

Source: AutismEducationTrust

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