Estimates tell us that around 1 in 100 children have an Autism Spectrum Disorder. (ASD) This suggests that we have many autistic children in our primary BGE setting.
During primary school years children may already have an identification of autism through paediatric health colleagues. Other children may not have an identification; irrespective of this, practitioners will be working with the family to support a child who appears to have social communication difficulties which may or may not lead to investigation for autism.
Early recognition and intervention ensures that children can receive the most appropriate support and in turn benefit from the best outcomes.
Children with autism present with a variety of strengths, difficulties and sometimes behaviour issues. For these children the cause of behavioural difficulties usually relates to the core symptoms of autism and with suitable support and adaptation they can thrive in primary school and will feel safer, less anxious and have an increased understanding of what is expected of them. This in turn will mean that the child is more likely to have increased attainment, improved engagement and is less likely to become anxious and stressed.
Primary school and autism
It is extremely important that autism is not perceived to be negative, autistic learners have many positive attributes and presenting autism as a ‘deficit model’ is not helpful. For example, autistic learners may be skilled at paying attention to detail, follow clear rules and are honest. These abilities can be used to encourage engagement, and enable them to make their own, unique contribution within the primary school setting.
The Toolbox section on Understanding Autism provides a range of information. All autistic learners have impairments in social communication, social interaction, social imagination and a preference for routines. Many have sensory issues and a restricted pattern of behaviours. When planning to support a child in primary school it is important that there is an understanding of the way in which these factors affect the individual child. The unique make-up of the school community will be an important consideration. For example:
- Children with autism may also have a good or above average range of vocabulary. However, having a complex vocabulary does not mean that the child will understand the same level of vocabulary, nor that the child will use the vocabulary for meaningful communication.
- The environment of the classroom and ethos of the school can have a negative impact if they are not inclusive. The Professional Development section has information on a professional learning resource to support the inclusive classroom which is entitled the ‘Framework for inclusion: CIRCLE Primary'.
Autistic learners (especially when diagnosed in later childhood) may have had negative experiences in relation to school. These experiences will have decreased confidence, and self-esteem. Rebuilding self-esteem is an important step in addressing behaviours. Often autistic learners have a fear of failure, and so negative responses from staff within the school setting can increase the anxiety and subsequent negative behaviour.
Primary 1 and 2 stages still incorporate a focus on play-based approaches which may be difficult for a child who appears to have social communication difficulties or has been identified with autism. As the autistic learner, along with their peer’s, progresses through P1 – P7, they will experience incremental challenges in their learning and social interactions. Understanding, support and differentiation in teaching styles and approaches will be needed and shared between home and school to minimise difficulties the child may have in accessing the curriculum and engaging with their peers. This will also provide positive opportunities to maximise the autistic learners’ areas of strengths, interests and motivation.
The Introduction to BGE page has suggestions which will support autistic learners, practitioners and families; here are some which are focused for primary school.
- Liaise with colleagues in pre-school setting to support an effective transition. Further information on nursery to primary transition is available here
- Liaise with colleagues in pre-school setting to find out about the learner’s profile, their supports and approaches
- Work in partnership with the family
- Ensure all peripatetic teachers who work with the class have access to the appropriate information in order to support the learner
- Ensure the child knows the routines of the classroom
- Use simple language
- Be literal (for example, don't talk about it 'raining cats and dogs')
- Keep routines consistent
- Give plenty of warning about any change
- Ensure the classroom is an inclusive environment. Click here to access the ‘Framework for inclusion: CIRCLE Primary’
- Use visual cues (pictures or objects) to help communication and understanding
- Click here to download an example of a visual time table (Same link to resource in 8.2d)
- Communicate with the autistic learner what they should do, not what they shouldn't do
- Work in partnership to identify triggers (the things which seem to cause strong reactions) and work out ways to reduce these happening
- Some situations will require additional planning in advance. For example:
- Wet playtimes and lunch times
- Classes taken by other teachers
- Trips and excursions and outside learning
- School visitors
- School productions – shows and concerts
- Non-uniform days