On Thursday, 8th of April, 2021, we hosted a workshop and Q&A on Strategies and Resources for Supporting Children with Autism with insights from our team.
We debunked misconceptions and discussed ideas for supporting children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Asperger Syndrome in special schools and mainstream settings. We hope these strategies help you to create an autism-friendly classroom when you book your next SEN role!
“We must learn strategies and techniques to make the world a safer place for children with autism” — Olivia
Summary: A key starting point for working with young people with autism is debunking the myths. Be up-to-date on research:
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability and primarily affects how a person communicates, relates to and makes sense of the world and others. Understanding misconceptions allows us to make adaptations in schools and workplaces to allow people with autism to flourish.
Key Points: Thoughtful wording and inclusive language are essential, whether it relates to disability, race, gender or sexuality. Olivia avoids terms like ‘normal’ or ‘issues’, and said ‘it's key to understand what a child or young person wants to be called’. The graph below is an example of how people may think symptoms of autism appear (left) versus how symptoms could actually present (right). She reminds us to treat autism as a spectrum with non-linear expressions of symptoms.
Opportunity: Olivia and Charly shared resources for learning about autism:
Summary: Children with autism can struggle with communicating their needs, wants, emotions, or making eye contact or understanding body language. Recognising the 4 stages of communication can inform your approach to teaching:
Key Strategies: Adapting your communication style may involve using:
Opportunity: ‘Using colourful semantics changed my way of teaching’, explained Charly. Speech and language therapists use this approach by Alison Bryan as a ‘colour-coded sentence scaffold to show children what makes up a sentence’. Once they’re confident, they can build longer sentences by organising words into their thematic role — ‘I could see the kids' progress with this. Just having the colours there gives them so much more confidence to be autonomous’.
“Children with autism might feel things at 10 times the power we do” — Olivia
Summary: Creating a safe sensory environment helps students with difficulty in processing certain sights, smells and sounds. This might present as hypersensitivity — feeling overwhelmed — or hyposensitivity — being under-responsive.
Key Strategies: Some sensory considerations:
Children can exhibit “stimming”, a self-stimulatory and repeated behaviour that can signal challenging behaviour might occur. Olivia stresses the importance of learning triggers. If a child does display self injurious behaviour, teach them ways to safely channel their energy — engaging with a sensory toy can be calming.
Opportunity: Charly emphasises the power of using sensory boxes during wet play or waiting for a teacher to come in; ‘you've got a sensory box, you're in control, you've got a great activity to bring the kids together or to keep them occupied or feed into their sensory diet’. It can be a random collection of sensory items or specifically tailored to your lesson; for example, music, book or Science themes. The possibilities are endless (and cheap from Poundland), plus students can build their vocabulary on a topic!
“Children with autism can find the world really chaotic and confusing. The need for structure and routine is really important” — Olivia
Summary: Creating structure and routine for children with autism helps give them a clear idea of when to expect change.
Key strategies: Consider using:
Opportunity: Charly recommends working closely with all staff. Establishing everyone’s responsibilities — where the teacher might deliver lessons to the whole class while the TA focuses on one-to-one support — can help children feel nurtured and hit their targets.
Lean on tips from occupational therapists, speech and language therapists too. The more consistently that a child is treated in school, the higher the chance is that they can regulate themselves better. It takes time, but ‘a sense of routine can diminish challenging behaviour because they'll have the tools to communicate with you properly’.
“Meltdowns are not the same as temper tantrums, and they shouldn't be seen as naughty behaviour. The most important thing is to give them space and time, it might take a long time to recover” — Olivia
Summary: Challenging behaviour, or meltdowns, happen because children are ‘frustrated, overstimulated, understimulated, bored’, or saying ‘I can't communicate any other way to you’. The key is anticipating the meltdown (they may exhibit signs of heightened “stimming” beforehand), creating a quiet environment and removing triggers. Olivia said the focus is to ‘de-escalate the situation and reduce sensory discomfort’.
Key Strategies: Acting quickly and calmly is key for:
Self injurious behaviours
Opportunity: It’s important to build positive relationships with parents and caregivers so you can share and apply consistent strategies which help children to thrive. Introducing home diaries, regular check-ins, and fun activities such as family discos can boost morale and build amazing relationships too.
We hope you learnt something new about supporting children with autism and feel ready to explore SEN teacher or TA roles in London, Birmingham and Manchester. Follow us on Instagram for more tips!
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