“Autism is a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them.”
There is no known cause for autism – there is some evidence suggesting it is a combination of factors including environmental and genetic. There is no specific treatment.
Autism comes in different levels of severity. An individual may present different levels of developmental distortion (could be advanced or delayed). It can also present with other conditions, including anxiety, OCD and ADHD.
Comorbidity of disorders (taken from http://www.lanc.org.uk/related-conditions/autistic-spectrum-difficulties-asd-adhd/)
In over half of individuals, Autism is present from birth. Many features peak at 2-5 years. There is a second peak at the onset of adolescence when 1/3 of adolescents can experience depression or anxiety.
Recent research has highlighted the number of undiagnosed women may be larger than anticipated. Girls are more likely to mask symptoms by mimicking the behaviour of others.
A case study – focusing on a Key Stage 3 girl with autism
Any topic that requires understanding of figurative language, symbols, multiple answers and non-black and white answers can pose quite a problem for some students, particular some students with autism.
- Model different points of view – Sometimes we have clear, definitive answers and other times there are a variety of answers which are all equally valid. Many students struggle with ‘grey areas’ and this can also include students with autism. Model different ideas, encourage plenty of class feedback and perhaps experiment with different ‘hats’ or ‘glasses’ that students can wear to see the world from a different point of view. One of my autistic students has loved this activity this year, and will very dramatically put their imaginary glasses on to offer a different point of view.
- Use images to help make the connection – our world is full of symbols and ‘codes’ that we learn and our school is just the same. Everyday students are presented with a range of symbols and are able to understand what these mean; from + to CO2, @, no entry and poisonous. Taking the time to discuss these and how one thing can mean something else has really helped her to understand symbolism. In fact she still comes to tell me different symbols she has discovered and why she thinks they are used.
- Clear and direct instructions –using the same words in written and verbal instructions is really important in terms of understanding. Slightly altering the instructions even by one or two words can often be interpreted as a different task or confuse students. Keep it simple and keep it the same.
- Thinking time – no one likes being pounced on for an answer, and for an autistic pupil this can be overwhelming. I have been working on this with one of my pupils since October, giving warning at the start of the lesson that I’d love to hear from them this lesson and then checking in a few minutes before to remind them that I will be asking a question. This has been successful to the point that I often no longer need to warn one student that I will ask them, instead the student telling me that they’d like to share their idea for the lesson. This has not only allowed that student to feel prepared, but also more empowered as they are selecting the information that they wish to share.
- Consistency with home – one of the most beneficial things I have found is having a chat with parents about what strategies they use and I have been able to replicate some of these at school. This was particularly useful at the start of year, at the start of new units or during any particular challenging moments. Sometimes just simple wording can work wonders.
- Engage with their interests – we are all undoubtedly busy but taking a few minutes to find out a little about my students, particularly this student has made a massive impact this year. I can use information for basis of tasks when introducing new concepts and for some students, autistic students included, this can really help with interest and a desire to engage.
In pastoral setting:
- Allow students to use you as a sounding board when they feel frustrated.
- Act as a go-between when there has been an incident. Role play ways the student can respond. Written notes/emails could be sent to you first for checking.
- Regular communication with parents can help anticipate situations and give ideas for strategies which can be passed on to subject teachers.
- Use modelling and examples to demonstrate social skills– social story cartoons can be useful.
We all need to value our differences and not to see them as odd.
How boring would life be if we were all identical?
What can we learn from each other?
How can we celebrate our strengths?
National Autistic society: www.autism.org.uk
Learning Assessment and Neurocare Centre: http://www.lanc.org.uk/
Autism education trust: www.autismeducationtrust.org.uk – has some free resources
Austim visuals (free): http://visuals.autism.net/main.php
Widgit symbols (not free but good for inspiration) www.widgit.com
Di Clode and Leyla Pattison