Back when my youngest, then known as Son2, was in mainstream, he didn’t yet have statutory support. Although the infant feeder school would have sent notes on to the junior school, as his parent, I knew him best. And I knew there were things, as he entered in Year 3 and then moved up to Year 4, that would help smooth the way for both him and his teachers.
His Year 3 teacher was kind, and he coped ‘okay’. He had a new autism diagnosis and the school had sent a teaching assistant along to the NAS Early Bird Plus course with us to help learn skills about managing. Of course, this meant she could disseminate those skills throughout the two-form junior. Or at least that was the plan.
When you’ve met one autistic child...
As Son2 entered Year 4, I realised his teacher would not be the one who’d taught my eldest, who could have managed him well and helped him thrive. Instead, they put him with an inexperienced second-year teacher who, I was informed, knew “all about” Asperger’s as she’d taught a child with the same diagnosis the year before. Because all kids with autism are the same, aren’t they? I knew this child and while the diagnosis might have been the same, he was as far from being like Son2 as it was possible to be. I was uneasy, to say the least.
I decided to write a helpful list, drawn up without rose-tinted lenses, that, if taken notice of, would ease the transition and help her understand who HE was, as opposed to just being ‘another’ autistic child. I recently came across it and thought I’d share it, in case it’s useful for you as we come to towards the last part of the school year and you’re thinking ahead to September.
Note, each tip is practical, realistic, to the point and constructive, thinking ahead to possible scenarios based on previous experience. A good teacher will welcome the help. For your information here, Son2 at the time was diagnosed with ASD and Attention Deficit. He wasn’t hyperactive and wasn’t disruptive. He was, if anything, ‘away with the faeries’. He has Ehlers Danlos, like myself, but it wasn’t diagnosed, though its symptoms were already becoming clear. At this point, he was just going through a statutory assessment.
Tips to manage my son
- In cold weather, ensure he remembers to wear coat and gloves as he has Raynaud’s Syndrome (poor circulation) and gets blue lips. I have in the past had to collect him from school because he has become so chilled. We need to avoid this so please ensure playground staff are aware.
- He needs frequent reminders to stay on task or he will forget what he is supposed to be doing and daydream instead.
- Please try to integrate his laptop as much as possible, especially when large pieces of writing are expected. (eg project work). They could be printed out and stuck in the relevant book, but his reluctance to write by hand is preventing him from enjoying school. He needs to feel he can get out his laptop and use it as a regular part of his classroom life, which is not yet happening.
- He loves presenting to the class, but can go on a bit. If he is, you could try saying: ‘One more point and then we’ll finish/move on’ which will let him know it’s time to stop.
- Sometimes he will say things that are seemingly irrelevant to the subject, but he will have made a connection in his head and gone off at a tangent. He will need to be refocused on the precise subject being taught.
- Sometimes he will remember things that have upset him some time ago and will be filled with renewed frustration about what happened. To the observer, it is impossible to know what has upset him. Obviously you do not have time to find out, so it is better to distract him.
- His favourite subjects are science & maths. He knows how to make and edit his own videos and uses computers and the internet with ease. He enjoys making comic books and has brilliant creative ideas, but lacks the skills and organisation to bring them to fruition, especially in DT. If possible, he needs extra support here to structure his ideas into something workable. At home he enjoys Lego and computer games.
- He is always complaining that the other children don’t think he is clever. His difficulties in writing and organising himself have affected his self-esteem and he is conscious that some of the other children think he is a ‘geek’. He is very proud of his reading ability and that he has always been on the highest reading level. Public praise for his strengths would help particularly when working with others.
- Please do not sit him near disruptive children as this causes him distress.
- Homework is a particular problem, as with many autistic children. He thinks school work should be done at school, not at home. We always struggle to get him to complete tasks and cannot do it unsupervised, ever. Please understand if his homework is sometimes not completed. It is not for want of trying by his parents!
- He finds sharing computers in the IT suite difficult. Perhaps the relevant programs on the school computers could be installed on his laptop and if there is wireless capability in the IT suite, perhaps he could use his own laptop in there during IT lessons. I helped every week with IT last year. I would love to do the same this year if possible- I am already familiar with the Y4 curriculum through helping Mrs X last year.
- He will sometimes refuse to cooperate and sometimes becomes ‘overloaded’. Distraction techniques can work here. Mrs x, TA, knows him very well as a result of the Early Bird + Autism course last year so perhaps she could be of help in school time?
- He needs help writing his homework diary. ANY instructions for things that he needs to do at home or bring in must be written in there for him. If he does it himself, I will have difficulty understanding what is required.
- Swimming: I will volunteer to help with swimming. His Raynaud’s syndrome means he is in danger of becoming excessively chilled if made to stand out for any length of time. He also has problems with acoustics in swimming pools and cannot process what he is being told to do so needs to be spoken to quietly at close range.
- I am also happy to help with trips outside school as he needs close supervision in case he wanders off. This is not out of naughtiness but because he has seen something interesting that he wants to get a closer look at.
- Visual prompts for the things he needs to complete a task will be helpful. I am sure Sue the Autism Outreach team was helpful in this regard.
- Please call me or email anytime, should you need clarification or advice about his behaviour or learning style. I believe him to be a gifted child academically, but his difficulties mean that he is not benefitting from school in the same way as other bright children, which is why we are trying for a statutory assessment. Helping him be the best that he can be is my main priority and I am more than happy to assist in school in any way to make this happen.
Did it work?
Well you would think it might. If I’d been his teacher I would have taken note as they are little things for different scenarios that could have been noted into subjects. In infant school, he was given his own small area he could work in quietly if he needed to but in juniors he was expected to ‘fit in’.
What actually happened was that I didn’t get to help in the same way, other than to support him on trips so he could attend. This isn't obligatory though, schools are not allowed to expect you to do this. However I wanted to enable my son to have the best experience possible so I didn’t mind, and crucially, I had the time.
After a few disturbing incidents, I ended up moving him to another, brilliant, school, along with his brother where they both thrived.
But don’t let that put you off- it’s always a good idea to try to work with the school in helping them understand and support your child. If it’s a good, inclusive, school, it will be grateful for your input as long as it’s respectful and constructive. Giving them a ‘crib sheet’ means you can always then remind them to refer back to it if they mention issues you’ve already offered solutions for. They do, after all, have lots of children to teach, and yours won’t be the only one with difficulties, so it’s only human if they forget.
This is why it’s important to give it to the class teacher before school breaks up, as soon as you know who their teacher will be, or, if they’re changing schools, mail or email it in or drop a copy off in person. It may have no impact, but you will have tried. Don’t let them just hand it off to the TA (if there are any left) as it’s the class teacher’s responsibility, not the TA’s - though ideally, everyone who works with your child should be given a copy. And if your child is on SEN Support, it can be part of the Assess, Plan, Do, Review process that you should have been involved with from the start ??
- How the SENCO~Parent team helps children with SEND thrive
- SEN Support: Poorer outcomes when needs aren’t thoroughly assessed
- SEN Support in schools: Finding out what works in practice
- One parent’s seven steps to success for her autistic son’s EHCP
- YouGov survey: Teachers blame “parental pressure” for misdiagnosis of SEN
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She is also an experienced broadcast and print journalist & author. Tania also runs a PR, web & social media consultancy, SocialOro Media. She is a Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate with Ehlers Danlos syndrome.
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