When you have children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Sensory Processing Difficulties (SPD) in mainstream schools, even with staff trained in these conditions, there needs to be awareness.
Awareness that if you know one child with autism then you know one child with autism! The spectrum is so wide that each child has individual issues that they need support with.
I look after six children with ASD, one of which is my own.
One child has SPD with their hearing and touch, so loud or certain noises can hurt their ears and light touch can feel as if they are being punched! They are verbal and highly intelligent. They are caring, sensitive and really don’t like being laughed at. This child needs to know what is happening and when.
I look after another child who needs very strict routines. They don’t have many sensory issues but struggle to understand social situations to the extent that they think people are being horrible to them or they just blank people or talk over them. This child has to have a certain program on TV at a certain time or the world just isn’t right. They are very much in their own world and wouldn’t necessarily even notice if they got seperated from me and were alone.
I look after another child who chews everything, their SPD means they need the feedback in their mouth and they really like to dismantle or chew my toys. This child has a safe place, on my window sill behind the curtain. I keep my pile of Barbie bits in this safe place and have to make sure no one else sits there or it can cause distress to this child.
I look after another child who needs constant reassurance and attention. They follow me everywhere and never stop talking! Sometimes they are overly happy about seemingly nothing and other times the smallest thing can throw them and at those times they want ear defenders, a collection of familiar items and a special chair that they call theirs.
I look after one child who is obsessed with a certain west end musical and doesn’t understand why other children don’t share the interest and tire of conversation with them about it.
To look after these children I have had to get to know them all individually. I know each child’s routines, triggers that will upset them, special toys, interests and places. Not one of these children is the same as another.
Yes I have visual aids on my walls, I try to make gradual changes rather than big changes to surroundings, I strictly keep to routines, I have built a sensory room for chill out time and many other things a lot of children need but I also turn the TV to a particular channel ready for when a child arrives, give twenty minutes warning to one child to put their shoes on, give different rewards for different tasks that children find difficult. I supervise some children in the bathroom and others in the kitchen. I repeat the same sentences over and over for some children to help their speech, I listen and answer many, many questions for others. I put six broken barbies, a bob the builder toy and a playmobil treasure chest on the windowsill for one child to feel secure and make sure a particular pen is available to another.
I pre-plan, I plan for children who might arrive unsettled, I plan incase a child says the wrong thing to another child.
I watch and I listen constantly, I know the signs each child has that they are unsettled or bothered and I try to help before it’s too late.
I explain. I explain everything! In great detail! I explain what and when and how and why to all children and I explain to other children what their peers like, why they get upset and how they can help.
If I can give understanding and awareness to some of tomorrow’s generation at the same time as helping keep children with ASD and SPD in my setting safe and happy then I have done my job for the day!
If you are a teacher the most important advice I can give is to get to know the individual children, talk to the parents and carers, gather as much information about that child as you can and think of the small (or big) things you can put in place to help them. Bear in mind the child might not be in the best environment, the parents might be in the middle of the hardest battle of their life trying to get their child an EHC Plan or another school but try your best and it won’t go unnoticed. Stop and think before you change the tables or groups or places or pictures on the walls, think before you change the timetable or before school trips. Maybe you need to prepare a child, maybe they need a social story, maybe it would be better to do one thing at a time over a longer period. Pre-plan. If you know the childrens triggers you can plan for when they happen and also to an extent prevent them. But most of all understand. Understand what is going through or not going through a child’s mind when they are upset. Understand why that child keeps running away or can’t sit still. Understand why they “can’t” do the task you think is simple. Understand that the parents of that child may not have slept all week and can’t find anyone else to look after their child so they can have ten minutes to themselves, and it might have taken two hours to get the child to come to school that day. Understand and learn and you will make a huge difference!
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