Helping autistic learners recover from pandemic educational losses

with Louise Bull from the Autism Education Trust

Today is the start of Autism Awareness Week 2021, with the focus for many on recovery from the pandemic (although whether we are through it yet, is still to be seen)

To help, The Autism Education Trust is offering many free resources to support children’s development both at home and in the classroom. They include a free COVID 19 version of their most popular resource – Tools for Teachers.

AET is funded by the Department for Education and run by the National Autistic Society and Ambitious About Autism charities. The programme provides materials and training to support autistic children and young people up to the age of 25.

Louise Bull from the AET, has written for us about their resources for recovery that they're promoting as part of Autism Awareness Week 2021

Autism Awareness Week 2021 – Resources for educational recovery by Louise Bull, AET

Lockdown and the pandemic has been difficult for all of us, but it affected autistic people and their families disproportionately. Uncertainty and change are particularly challenging for autistic people to deal with.

The Autism Education Trust, is aiming to support COVID-19 recovery by providing useful resources for education settings and home-schooling parents to help equip them to continue supporting the education of all children and young people. 

Autism Fast facts:

  • Autism is a lifelong developmental difference affecting how people communicate and interact with the world
  • There are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.
  • More than one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum, and the number of children receiving an autism diagnosis is rising.
  • Whether a child is educated at home, in a mainstream or specialist setting, lockdown brought unanticipated changes and loss for us all. Many children lost their usual educational provision that they rely on which has had a great impact on their ability to learn 
Louise Bull
Louise Bull, AET

During lockdown: 

  • Seven in ten parents of autistic children said their child had difficulty understanding or completing school work, and around half said their child’s academic progress suffered.
  • Compared to the general public, autistic people in June and July were:
    • Seven times more likely to be chronically lonely.
    • Six times more likely to have low life satisfaction.

 Parents have unexpectedly become their child’s primary educator over the last year, and we have been trying to support home-education throughout lockdown. The Autism Educational Trust intends to be at the forefront of educational recovery.

The pandemic's impact on families with autistic children

During summer 2020, the Autism Centre for Education and Research (ACER), University of Birmingham surveyed parents of autistic children about their experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, with a particular focus on their experiences with home education.

The five topics included:

  • Autism, Covid-19 lockdown and school support
  • Positives from the Covid-19 lockdown
  • Struggles during lockdown and managing home education
  • Transitioning back to school after lockdown

You can watch a series on videos which cover these topics on our website. You can also find their factsheet, which summarises their findings.

Autism and lockdown home learning: A candid discussion with parents

In February 2021, we reflected on family experiences in lockdown. AET interviewed two mums who had very different experiences. 

Debbie Potter, mother of Lizzie, discussed her experiences of autism and home-schooling during lockdown. Lizzie is 11-years-old and was diagnosed in August 2020. Debbie explained how they had got into a routine for learning, led by what Lizzie needed, and why they ended up deciding to continue home-schooling when lockdown ended. You can read the interview, or watch the video interview on our blog, including a transcript.

We also spoke to AnnMarie, mother of Charlotte and Georgiana, about her experiences home-schooling an autistic child during lockdown. Charlotte is five-years-old and she had her diagnosis of autism when she was two-and-a-half. Charlotte is non-verbal and uses PECS. AnnMarie explained how they found it difficult to manage Charlotte's anxieties as well as both AnnMarie and her husband working. Although Charlotte's new school had tried to help, AnnMarie realised some of it wouldn't work at home. They've also been educating their neurotypical child, Georgiana. You can find the full interview on our blog.

Our Autism Awareness Week 2021 resources

Our most popular parent resources include: 

  • The Parent Guide: Offers support and advice for a hugely important moment of your child’s life in education: choosing a new school and for those potentially difficult meetings with the SENCO and the school support team.
  • Read about the Exclusion service offered by the National Autistic Society (NAS)
  • Advice and support for home educating.
  • Back-to-School and Covid-19 Information Centre – including a Tools for Teachers Covid-19 edition booklet and a wealth of support materials from our partners across England including two detailed case studies with practical planning tools, impact assessment and sensory profiles.

Find our Support Autism Awareness Week Our Resources here

The Lockdown Survey 

In February 2021, we got in touch with the AET community to ask about their experiences during lockdown. Amongst others, we heard from parent carers and practitioners whose tips included:

  • Patience, flexibility and humour go a long way. If a task is a challenge leave it and come back to it when the child is ready.
  • Be kind to yourself, teachers are not expecting parents to do their job, anything you can do is a bonus.
    Use the First, Next , Then process so your child can see that there is going to be an end.
    Don’t forget those important life skills such as holding a conversation, eating together, cooking – they are important too!
  • We have kept contact with parents through phone check ups and e mails and forwarded any supportive materials we have been offered from agencies. We are going to have a group parents informal coffee meeting prior to return to full school. Staff have been on Transition courses to look at return to school.

You can read some more of the comments, tips and inspiring guidance on our website here

Autism Education Trust is a not-for-profit  supported by the National Autistic Society and Ambitious about Autism, and funded by The Department of Education. The AET promotes and supports partnerships throughout the education system to improve educational access, experiences and outcomes for autistic children and young people. 

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Tania Tirraoro

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