I was disgusted to read about Autistic children in Scotland being unlawfully excluded from school, (Your Autism magazine – Winter 2018).
Children are being excluded from their lessons for being, ‘disruptive’.
A day in mainstream school can be extremely stressful for a child on the Autistic spectrum. This can lead to meltdowns or misbehaving if not managed appropriately.
In the National Autistic Society’s ‘Your Autism’ magazine winter 2018 issue it states that more than a third of parents (34%) who responded to the charity’s survey said their children had been excluded from school in the last two years, with 22% saying this happened several times a week.
Many autistic children would be able to thrive in mainstream school if teachers were given appropriate training on the condition and more support was offered to the autistic pupils. Over 700,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with Autism – 1 in 100 people. This makes it at least a handful of pupils in every school at any one time. So why is it still not mandatory for teachers to be trained on Autism Spectrum Disorder? There are currently no regulations in place to ensure teachers in mainstream schools have qualifications and experience in teaching autistic children.
Autistic pupils are not getting the educational experience which they deserve. Children with autism are often asked to miss school trips and activities and to attend lessons on a part-time basis. Parents are often asked to collect their child at an unscheduled time and are even asked by the school to keep their child at home due to the school being uncapable of supporting the child’s needs.
Many on the Autistic spectrum have an above average IQ and should excel in their school lessons. Often, their intelligence is unable to shine through as the social expectations in a classroom are too challenging for them to overcome. This is where the teachers being educated in Autism and awareness of the condition would benefit the pupil.
I will include below some tips which the National Autistic Society recommend you take into account or action when teaching an Autistic child:
- be aware of the childs difficulty to relate to others and understand unwritten rules
- be aware of the childs difficulty with communication
- be aware of the childs difficulty with thinking flexibly (how to cope when plans change)
- establish good communication with parents/carers. They know their child best and may be able to suggest interventions to use
- allow autistic pupils to have a time out card or exit pass to indicate to teaching staff that they are feeling anxious and need to leave the classroom
- allow time for them to process information
- consider the school environment and think about how you can make it more comfortable. For example, a pupil who struggles to block out background noise may benefit from wearing ear defenders or listening to music whilst completing their class work (I used to find this helpful)
- have an agreed safe and quiet place for autistic pupils to go to when they feel anxiety building or are overloaded by sensory stimuli. This SHOULD NOT be the same place as where pupils are sent as a form of punishment
- teach autism awareness and acceptance
- deal with any bullying promptly
These simple acts will help a child on the spectrum feel less anxious and stressed and therefore, should reduce meltdowns and other forms of ‘disruption’ in the school setting. Instead of sending a child home for being disruptive, patience should be practised and time should be taken to consider why the autistic child had an outburst of anxiety or distress. The cause should be resolved or removed where possible to allow the child to continue with their school day – it may mean taking the child to a quiet room to work through their emotions and calm down but it certainly shouldn’t mean sending them home.
With accomodations made and awareness raised the child will be able to learn and get the education which they deserve. It will benefit the other pupils and the teacher but most importantly it will benefit the autistic child. They will not be labelled as ‘naughty’ or excluded for ‘misbehaving’. The child will feel like they belong and recieve the same education as others in their age group – Autistic children will thrive, in both curricular and social aspects, when the right accommodations are made.
Most importantly through educating our teachers and raising awareness, autistic children will not be discriminated against due to a minor difference in their neurological pathways as is (disappointingly) currently the case.
*Note: I think most teachers do an excellent job and make the most of the training which they are given. I have multiple teachers who supported my autistic needs and whom I wouldn’t have completed school without. The problem is with the government. More funds need to be given towards education and Autism. Resources, such as quiet rooms, should be avaliable and ideally, specialist staff should be on hand to help the autistic child work through a meltdown whilst the teacher continues with the lesson for the other children. If more funds went towards rescources and training then perhaps simply sending the autistic child home or forcing them to miss out on activities would no longer be an ‘ok’d’ option.