Autism, Education and Transition
Note: There are different terms used for autism; throughout this blog, we will be referring to autism as autistic disorder.
Having worked in schools for over a decade I have seen many different challenges and changes in the ways in which the needs of individuals are met, or sadly, sometimes not met. A quick search of autistic disorder and education/schools throws up a range of topics from EHCP battles, through to bullying and success stories.
Teaching and Training
When I went through my teacher training (a long time ago) we had some input about students with additional needs in our classrooms, and whilst these sessions were useful they usually focused on theoretical information rather than practical steps we could take to make our classroom more welcoming and supportive. During my time as a classroom teacher I would always try and meet the needs of every individual, but I am also honest enough to say at times I fell short of this.
As my subject was not a “core” subject, I rarely had additional support in the classroom to help support the needs of individual students. Moving into a pastoral role as Head of Key Stage allowed me to spend more time with specific individuals/groups of students; many of whom had additional learning needs or a diagnosis of autistic disorder. Through listening and learning from these individuals you start to build up a picture of what a day is like from their perspective. I was able to implement some of their suggestions and could see progress being made on a number of levels; the most important one being that these young people could then access education and feel secure and supported.
Following a recent campaign, the Government have now confirmed that autism training will be part of every new teachers initial training. This is a step in the right direction, but something which I feel needs to be expanded greatly. Every person involved with every school needs to be aware of autistic disorder; this goes from OFSETD inspectors, to students, to teachers, to volunteers at after school clubs and school transport drivers - with each of these people filling a vital role on the whole school experience. This training also needs to be regularly refreshed and applied to the young people in each setting to ensure they can fulfil their potential.
The environment should change, not the person
The school environment itself can be one which is daunting to many people. If you go back into a school environment now as an adult, many people would find them somewhat intimidating. For people on the autistic disorder spectrum, the sensory environment at schools can be too much – the noise, smell, lights, materials etc. Steps can be taken to support access to schools, and it may be changes which some people view as “small” which can make the world of difference. Allowing a ten minute quiet room space on arrival at school, or meeting with a trusted adult, preparing visual timetables of a day’s activity rather than a written one, creating a safe space within the school and many other subtle changes which can make a huge difference.
Times of transition can be especially difficult, and whereas some people would straight away think of transition as being primary to secondary, or Key Stage 3 to Key Stage 4, it is important to think of transition in much smaller steps. The transition from home to school can cause huge anxiety, and one which schools can support in a variety of ways. This is applicable to the workplace as well, flexible working hours can allow people to avoid “rush hour” travel, and if this supports our employees why would we not let them do this? Changes to classrooms can result in people feeling unable to enter the room. Change does happen, but where it can be structured and communicated in advance it can make a huge difference.
In no way is this a blog post criticising education, it is looking at how we can work in partnership to support the improvements of provision by listening to the needs of people on the autistic disorder spectrum and then acting on these.
We believe that with small changes the workplace can become so much more accessible to people with autistic disorder who want to work. From my experience the majority of autistic people do not want charity, they want opportunity. Work with us to help a create spectrum of opportunities which will benefit all of those involved.
Contact us and find out how we can work together: Thomas@track.org.uk