Staff and Peer Education
In developing an inclusive ethos, all school communities will work to raise awareness of the importance of recognising that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.
This may involve staff training, talks to the whole school or year groups through assemblies or special events as part of a whole school’s planned learning around diversity and equality.
All staff require an understanding of inclusion and have a responsibility to support the social and emotional wellbeing of learners in their establishments . This would include developing an awareness of autism and supporting pupils within the school community to have access to opportunities, as appropriate, to help them understand their peers who are autistic or who have social, emotional learning differences.
Practitioners can find out if autism awareness training is available within your:
- Learning community and
- Education authority
- Consider undertaking some of the free modules available through the Education Scotland National Improvement Hub. See Professional Development section.
These approaches help challenge discrimination, support a culture of inclusion and participation and promote equality and fairness. It is important to provide opportunities to explore or challenge issues and develop an understanding of how to tackle them as part of classroom planning, as part of Personal and Social Development (PSD), Citizenship or within cross curricular activities. Individual learners should not usually be identified but by developing an ethos where children and young people are treated equally sessions could consider:
- The skills and talents of people who think in a different way
- Social communication difficulties and how these are likely to present
- What might be best ways to help and support.
It may be helpful for parents of children and young people who require additional support, including autistic learners, to be made aware of the content of these lessons and when they will take place. They may lead to questions from their son or daughter or may open the way for further discussion about a diagnosis.
Some autistic learners may decide they would like their class or year group to know about their diagnosis. This can be done is a range of ways including developing a presentation with parents or support staff which is delivered by themselves, by staff or parents. It is important to decide beforehand with the learner concerned and their parents how they would like their diagnosis shared and whether they would like to be present during this.
- Information around communication, social interaction, preference for routines, sensory issues should be included in awareness training
- Identify well known, successful autistic people
- Awareness of the positive outcomes for autism people encourages pupils to identify strengths and talents
- Keep open communication with parents
- Young people will have different perspectives on peer awareness lessons which can have more of an impact at home than in school. Sessions might also raise questions which parents prepare to answer
- Use activities and resources which are useful to everyone
- Try to develop and show how we all benefit from some of the approaches which help autistic people, eg what visuals help us all in school and the community?
- Try 20 seconds ‘thinking time’
- Does it lessen anxiety, provide more reasoned answers?
- Identify some common idioms, phrases or sarcasm which could confuse more literal thinkers – 'You're skating on thin ice','I’d like an answer before lunchtime’ said in a sarcastic tone
- Provide examples of situations or communications and discuss what the issues are and what would be expected outcome e.g:
- Why do you smile or respond when someone greets you?
- Would a friend ask you to take the blame for something they did?
- What does it mean if someone gets a ‘hat trick’ at football – what would you say to them?
- Use films, poems, television or video clips to give perspectives of autistic children and young people
- Peer awareness should be developed across the school
- Lessons should be incorporated into planning every school session, and should build on knowledge through time. It is unlikely the same presentation to the same group every year will have much impact. Secondary schools should identify what information and resources have been used in primary schools
- Supporting Diversity, Equality and Wellbeing is the responsibility of all staff
- There will be issues within every age, developmental stage and curriculum area.
Learning about autism may be part of a package to support a buddy or mentoring scheme in the school. Young people, usually senior learners will require an enhanced level of awareness of the interests and strengths as well as support issues and strategies for the learners they are working with, whatever the level of difficulty. They will themselves need ongoing access to support, to sustain and develop this role.
A buddy can provide support when young people become anxious or benefit from someone at hand to explain or remind them of what to do, for example at break times or during participation in games. Buddies might help run lunch time or after school clubs. A mentor might provide support in a curriculum area which is their strength.
Provide ongoing support for buddies or mentors
- They will need to have a time to talk about how their time is allocated, the level of support they are giving and concerns or questions about their buddy
- There should be a member of staff they can contact
- They should also be informed about what information is important to pass on to staff
- Buddies should be aware of confidentiality issues
- Some learners might inadvertently or deliberately pass on personal information about themselves or others. Buddies should know that this information should not be passed on but should be aware of the kind of information which is relevant to child protection issues and who to pass this onto.
Buddies or mentors should be aware of how to avoid potential risks and compromising situations (never to be on their own) and how to avoid these.
Sometimes because of ongoing concerns regarding a learner’s wellbeing or interactions (or lack of) with peers, parents or professionals may find setting up a Circle of Friends helpful.
The Circle of Friends approach originated in North America as one of a range of strategies to promote the inclusion into mainstream school of students with disabilities . It encourages the development of a support network for the child in focus within a structured setting, which can also extend beyond that setting. The peer group of the learner are encouraged to look at their own behaviour and also to develop an understanding of the focus child’s behaviour and difficulties in order to develop strategies and practical solutions to help the individual. Volunteers from the peer group generate and try out a range of strategies aimed at inclusion of the focus child or young person. It is not an approach to provide instant friendship, but over the course of meetings and the evaluation of set targets, it is hoped that the focus child will be able to build closer and better relationships with other children.
The four main aims of Circle of Friends identified by Barrett are to:
- Create a support network for the focus child
- Providing the child with encouragement and recognition for any achievements and progress
- Work with the child to identify difficulties and devise together practical ideas to help deal with these difficulties
- Help to put these ideas into practice.
It is important that parents of all learners understand clearly how their child will be involved and the aims of the Circle of Friends. Parents need to inform the school whether their child is aware of their diagnosis and whether they are willing for the class group to be informed of their child’s diagnosis. It is not essential for others to know of the learner's diagnosis for it to run effectively. Circle of Friends can still be used even when the child may be unaware of their diagnosis. The peer group will be focusing on the child's difficulties and behaviour, and not on the difficulties that children with an autism identification are expected to have.