At present approximately 25% of our school population have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. (ASD)
Autism is 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.” (National Autistic Society, 2016)
The triad of impairments shows the core elements that our children may be affected by. In addition to the core impairments of the triad, many students with Autism will have difficulties with fine and gross motor co-ordination and organisational skills. They can also be affected by underlying fears and phobias, often (but not always) related to sensory sensitivities. These can have a significant effect on their behaviour, and the impact of fears and phobias on daily life should not be underestimated. It is important to remember that no two children are alike and therefore teaching needs to be modified for each child to fully meet their needs.
This strategy aims to explain our rationale and approach to teaching children with Autism across school as we strongly believe that effective education and early intervention will provide the best chance for each individual with autism to develop their potential. It is important for us to remember that we are preparing children for transition in the future, and to prepare them as much as they are realistically able, to take part in the wider community.
At present our classes are needs based and children with autism are placed in classes according to need. We currently have one class in EYFS which is set up for children specifically with ASD. Whilst this class (Squirrels) is within the Early Years Foundation Stage, due to the complex nature of this cohort it cannot be organised and run using the same structures as a ‘typical’ EYFS classroom. The starting point for many of these children is low, and the purpose of this class is to lay the foundations for learning skills to prepare them for successful integration into other classes at a later stage.
To teach children with autism we understand the need for varied approaches and opportunities for structured learning at age appropriate levels. Clear structure is fundamental to the learning of children with autism and this is provided through four key elements:
- Structured group learning
- Structured 1:1 learning (making use of recognised ASD approaches, e.g. TEACCH workstations, PECS and Intensive Interaction.)
- Independent learning opportunities
- Self-regulation opportunities through Sensory Interventions.
It is important to note that these should be integrated into learning throughout the whole school day.
When referring to the Triad of Impairment we recognise that social interaction is an area of need that should take priority. Whilst we follow a Total Communication approach the following are particularly pertinent to this group of learners.
• Each adult wears a communication apron containing symbols to be used for visual reinforcement of key words.
• All staff are trained in sign-along
• Visual timetables are used in all classrooms
• The picture exchange communication system (PECS) is used where appropriate.
• AAC devices (ICT) are used in consultation with specialist staff
• Transition boards feature in all locations across the school
Children with autism, as well as those with other developmental disabilities, may have a dysfunctional sensory system. Sometimes one or more senses are either over- or under-reactive to stimulation. Such sensory problems may be the underlying reason for such behaviours as rocking, spinning, and hand-flapping. Although the receptors for the senses are located in the peripheral nervous system (which includes everything but the brain and spinal cord), it is believed that the problem stems from neurological dysfunction in the central nervous system--the brain. (Autism Research Institute, 2015)
Children with sensory processing issues may be oversensitive or under-sensitive to the world around them. When the brain receives information, it gives meaning to even the smallest bits of information. Keeping all that information organised, and responding appropriately can be challenging for them.
Sensory integration focuses primarily on three basic senses.
• Tactile - The tactile system involves the entire skin network and is also responsible for the processing of pain and temperature. Tactile input can be alerting, calming, or over-stimulating, depending on the person. Each form of tactile input is processed differently as well.
• Proprioception - proprioception is the sense of your own body in space, without the use of other senses such as sight or touch. Knowing where your limbs are, relative to each other is attributed to proprioceptive sense. Often called the “position sense”, it is usually an unconscious feeling or state of awareness.
• Vestibular - Movement and balance. Movement is crucial to development, not only perhaps the more obvious which is gross motor development and posture, but it also plays a role in visual development, auditory processing, and overall self-regulation of the nervous system. Vestibular input is extremely powerful and can be alerting or calming to the nervous system.
We recognise that there is a fine balance between engagement and overload so there is a need for children to self-regulate by applying their own strategies (giving them time to be themselves) and aiding them with strategies to teach them how to cope in various situations. Without allowing them opportunities to become independent they will not learn strategies about how to cope so it is important to provide them with as many opportunities as possible to become independent.
To apply this at Wood Bank we:
• Provide an opportunity for daily Sensory Circuits
• Follow Sensory Diets where applicable
• Provide opportunities throughout the school day to engage in Sensory Play/activities
• Teach coping skills through providing opportunities for whole school events and trips into the community.
We recognise that with some individuals there may be a need for a lower arousal environment and to support this we provide the following environmental features;
- 1:1 TEACCH workstations
- A 1:1 workroom
- A Safe Space
- Equipment for Self-Regulation (based on Sensory Circuits/Diets)
However a lower arousal environment should not be confused with a low stimulation environment. Whilst at times some children need to learn with minimal distractions; we recognise that by taking away all stimuli we cannot fully prepare them for transitions and integration across school and within the wider world. Therefore as part of developing this, classes may be set up for low arousal at the start of the academic year but throughout the year will add additional stimulation through displays etc. Workstations are to be used to teach new skills where the adult support is slowly retracted as skills are mastered and independence sought.