In today's diverse mainstream classrooms, teachers and TAs play a crucial role in creating inclusive environments where every student can thrive. With the added pressures of supporting students with additional needs, it can become overwhelming and leave you with many questions including what does SEND stand for or how can I support students with autism in school and my classroom?
When it comes to supporting children with ASD – which stands for autism spectrum disorder – it requires adaptive teaching strategies to help them reach their full potential. Whether you are an experienced teacher, an Early Career Teacher (ECT), or a Teaching Assistant, here are five practical strategies and suggestions that will benefit all your students, including those with ASD, in your next role.
Developing a deep understanding of Autism and its related behaviours is vital when supporting students in the classroom. By engaging in ongoing training, attending workshops, and using available resources, teachers and learning support assistants can gain valuable insights into the unique needs and strengths of students on the autism spectrum. It is also beneficial to collaborate with the school's Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo) and other colleagues who have experience and knowledge in supporting students with ASD. By sharing experiences and learning from one another, a collaborative approach can be established. Additionally, familiarising yourself with the SEND Code of Practice 2020 provides a comprehensive framework for effective support and guidance in meeting the needs of all students, including those with ASD.
Designing an autism-friendly classroom environment is essential for promoting a positive learning experience. A visually structured and organised classroom can significantly benefit all students' understanding and engagement. Incorporating visual timetables, labels, and signs, promotes independence and can reduce anxiety. Having quiet areas where students can retreat to self-regulate their emotions allows for a calming and safe space and providing fidget toys or weighted blankets can help manage sensory needs and promote focus.
Additionally, adjusting lighting levels and minimising sensory overload by reducing excessive visual or auditory stimuli can contribute to a more comfortable learning environment. By considering these design elements, you can create an inclusive space that supports the specific sensory and organisational requirements of students with autism.
While many of the strategies mentioned so far can benefit all students, there are instances when individualised support is crucial to meet the specific needs of each child with autism. Collaborating with parents, the SENCo, and other professionals allows for the development of personalised learning plans tailored to the child's requirements. Breaking down tasks into manageable steps, using visual aids and social stories, and planning for structured group activities that encourage peer interaction are effective ways to engage an autistic child in learning. By incorporating the student's interests and strengths into the curriculum, you can create a meaningful and inclusive learning experience that fosters their engagement and motivation.
Inclusive education for students with autism in mainstream schools requires a focus on their engagement in learning for both academic and social development. Employing kinaesthetic (tactile) learning techniques, auditory teaching methods, and visual supports like task management boards and word mats can enhance their understanding and retention of information. Providing clear instructions and establishing predictable routines and transitions can foster a sense of stability and reduces anxiety allowing students with ASD to be engaged in the learning process. By implementing these strategies, you can effectively support students with autism, enabling them to thrive academically and socially within the school community.
By embracing adaptive teaching strategies, fostering collaborative partnerships, and providing personalised support, you can create an autism-friendly learning environment that is beneficial for all of your students.