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. This is to support our children through a purposeful learning environment with specialist teaching approaches.
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.
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 use a range of communication techniques including signing
• 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.
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.
At Wood Bank we:
- Provide opportunities in every classroom for sensory regulation
- Follow sensory diets where appropriate
- Write personalised sensory plans for every child
- Provide specialist equipment/resources to meet individual needs
For 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; 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.