Behaviour Matters

Archive for October, 2012

Autism and Supermarkets

As you may know I use Twitter quite a lot. You can find me there at some point every day, usually in the evening, but if I’m not at work it can be at any point through the day. One of the tweets I have automated is “When you see a child screaming in the supermarket, remember that Autism is a hidden disability.” As any of you who have children on the autistic spectrum will recognise this can be a very stressful time for both parents and children. You will know that during a trip to the supermarket, which can’t realistically be avoided, children can find the whole experience both stressful and painful. Sensory issues with lights, sounds and smells can lead to a ‘meltdown’ and if that isn’t enough the need to conform to society expectations can be the cause of a ‘meltdown’. But don’t forget the impulsivity or the apparent stubbornness that can be associated with Autism. (I say apparent as stubbornness is not a trait of autism but any parent will tell you that to an onlooker it can be assumed to be stubbornness). Once the ‘meltdown’ is in progress there is little you can do other than support the child and hope it doesn’t last too long or that you don’t get too many ‘looks’ from strangers who don’t understand.

I have been asked many times how to prevent the ‘meltdown’ and although I suggest some strategies that are based on desensitising there is not much you can do. Part of living in our social world is shopping, and shopping means supermarkets, but even if you shop in greengrocers, butchers and bakers the issues will still be there, and as parents would like their children to live as normal a live as possible, shopping needs to be done. You can shop online, and for some this is more practical, but where is the learning for the child? My response to parents who ask me for advice is to do small shops rather than one big one, use a list so that you know what you want and prioritise it into the things you need first, then if you anticipate an ‘meltdown’ you can get the things you need and get out. Or try visiting the shop with no intention of buying anything, just a social visit.

To finish off I’d just like to say that I am not naive enough to think that every child screaming in the supermarket is autistic, sometime children are loud and uncooperative, but there is a difference. Another of my tweets is “A hug, a smile or a nod can make a big difference to someone’s day. Why not give them out, they are free.” So next time you see a parent struggling with their child, don’t stand and stare or be judgemental, offer some support, it really can make a difference.


Falling and Failing


It came to my attention this week that although children with special needs are encouraged to attend main stream schools, which is not a bad thing, the teaching staff have very little special needs training during their time in university and even less once they are employed.

I know that for most teachers the ‘teacher training days’ at the beginning of terms are usually spent discussing the planning for the following term, and that most of their additional training is carried out either at weekends or more usually after work for a few hours. Occasionally some schools will send the head of a department or year group to a conference, with the expectation that they will then disseminate the information to the rest of the team, but this rarely happens due to high work loads and other commitments.

This lack of training combined with larger numbers of children with additional needs in the schools means that more children are falling behind or falling through the cracks because the system is failing them. I have seen this in primary schools and secondary schools. Add onto this lack of training the lack of funding due to local and central Government cuts more children will be labelled as trouble makers or disruptive leading to exclusions and underachieving.

I have no simple solution to this problem, as I said I do believe that inclusive education is important and that all children can learn valuable life skills from the practice, but there needs to be more flexibility in the curriculum, the attitudes of teachers, the availability of qualified TAs and better training in the needs of children who display challenging behaviour due to what ever circumstances they live with. The training should not stop at the end of university, but be compulsory for all teaching staff to continually train in behaviour strategies based on their classroom and the children they teach.

As part of Every Child Matters schools have a duty to ensure that children stay safe, enjoy and achieve, stay healthy, achieve economic wellbeing and make a positive contribution. They cannot do this without understanding the needs of the children and have the correct training to help the children meet these outcomes.

Currently I am working with so many of these children who have fallen through the cracks, they have low self esteem, they are under achieving, have no real prospects of finding employment or even gaining qualifications to allow them to move on to further education, they are being failed by society to stay healthy and safe as teenage pregnancy and smoking drugs are a way of life.

The staff team I work with are dedicated to improving the life chances for these children, but it has taken the system 10 years of the child’s life to find them a suitable place to learn in a setting dedicated to achieving goals and preventing another failure. There needs to be more done in the mainstream school system to prevent these children falling and failing.

It’s not always their fault

Hi all

I know I haven’t been very prolific on here for a few months, but I do aim to chnage that.

This week at work I witnessed something I found quite disturbing.  It is not the first time I have witnessed this, and not the first time I have challenged it, yet it seems to continue.  I am unsure as to the reason for the behaviour, is it a clash of personalities, a form of singling one person out, or is it learnt behaviour that is seen as acceptable?

Let me explain.  I work in a nurturing unit for 14-16 yr old who have been excluded from school.  Although there is an overall aim to reintegrate the students back into school we all accept that it is not likely, this does not mean that we do not try though.  One of the teaching staff in the centre has just joined us.  He talks about the other schools he has worked in and has a good background in working with difficult students.  The incident I have witnessed concerns one particular student, he has autism and delayed social development which means he is very immature, his reading and numeracy levels are low for his age.  Due to his diagnosis he can be volatile and his temper changes from mild to extreme very quickly, but if you leave him alone for a few minutes he will calm down just as quickly.  I know this form both working with him and reading his notes.  Earlier this week I was working ion the office and heard an arguement so I went to see what it was all about.  The teacher was arguing with this particular student, although the teacher was calm he was antagonising the student, which just made his temper and anger worse, it got so bad that the student punched the wall (putting a hole it) and threw a chair at the teacher.  The student was taken to another room to calm down, and the teacher returned to teaching the rest of the class as if nothing had happened.

Later that same day I approached the teacher and tried to explain the difficulties the student has, and that if he is wound up then allow him time to go somewhere to calm down, at which point he will return to continue his work.  The teacher responded by saying that this is how he handles the behaviour, take no nonsense and push the learners until they break at which point they will accept your authority.  He also told me that he had not read any of the notes, but thought he should. 

I can understand his approach, although I do not agree with it, and I can see how it could work for some students, but in the case of the students we work with this approach is not good.  I can see little benefit for the students and as we are trying to nurture them back into mainstream and society confrontation and forcing respect are not the way. 

All of this has reinforced my resolve to push forward with my training as I believe there are more teachers like the one described working in secondary schools who are actually forcing children into exclusion due their misunderstanding of the students.

I have spoken to the head of the centre about this, and made other people aware if they have not witnessed it.  I have also offered training, but feel that for this teacher there will never be any change.