Behaviour Matters

Archive for February, 2013

Positive about Autism – February

Good morning all, I’m not feeling very positive about life today, but as it is the last Saturday of the month it is all about positivity. I have heard some really positive stories this month, particularly about mainstream schools. This is great. As I keep saying there are some great schools out there that really seem to understand the needs of their pupils.

This month I have heard of two schools that have changed some of their procedures for individual children. These changes have been small but have made a huge difference to the children and their families. I have also heard about a school where the whole staff team have had Autism training, not just the support staff. This makes a big difference to the ethos of the school and ensures more understanding of how to deal with a melt down and how to prevent a meltdown by understanding the behaviour as well as the triggers or signs.

Simple changes can support the development of emotional intelligence for everyone, (some things never stop developing). Along with more emotional intelligence come the readiness to learn, not shallow learning for testing but deep learning with understanding and comprehension and the ability to transfer knowledge.

Let’s keep the wave of positivity moving this month, raise awareness and support everyone to learn something new as well as develop their own emotional intelligence.

Everybody is all right really

Some may say it’s a strange place to start when writing a blog, but Winnie the Pooh’s Little Book of Wisdom has helped me out this morning. I did think of lots of different topics, but when I sat down to write non of them seemed quite right.
So in the words of Winnie the Pooh

“Everybody is all right really. That’s what I think”

I can almost guarantee that some people reading this will disagree, as they may have had a disappointing or frustrating week. I know of other people who are on the whole very negative about everything and everyone, so they will disagree too. But for me I do believe in this statement. Ok some people can be difficult or reluctant to help, but on the whole people are all the same, they may face a situation from a different view point or have a different agenda to you, but does not automatically make them wrong.

We are also very unique and our uniqueness should never be compromised. This is where my passion to understand autism comes from. They should be encouraged to be themselves and society should adapt to meet their individuality. Society has done this in the past, it is more acceptable to be gay, if you have cancer you are not shunned or seen as infectious, the world is changing to accept AIDS, and people with learning disabilities are not locked away in asylums. So society can change if plenty people support it.

Autism is a hidden disability or condition, by trying to make the individual fit into the neurotypical world they are being denied their individuality and their uniqueness and any change in society is being prevented. So I call for parents and friends, teachers and advocates across the country (and the world) to stand up and raise awareness, stop hiding a hidden disability by pretending it is not there or that people can be ‘trained’ to be the same. Celebrate uniqueness and individuality, allow people to be who they are and not what you think they should be. Accept that difference is good and that everybody is all right really.

Assessments in schools

As we are nearing that time when schools are thinking about assessments and exams either as end of year assessments, SATS, GCSEs or even new school applications, I feel the time is right to discuss the need for all this assessment of achievement and how these assessments are done.

You may or may not know that I work in a specialist education setting with young people who have been excluded from main stream education for a variety of reasons. To ensure they get a rounded education and the chance to develop new skills both academic and vocational, some of the learners are provided with off site education in specialist vocational areas. One of the young adults I work with in particular has a diagnosis of Autism and she can become very anxious in new settings, she dopes not always understand that she may have done wrong due to her view of society. She is very quiet and will refuse to talk to people she does not like and she can be aggressive. Usually she is a pleasant young lady with a good sense of humour and she is working towards grade C/D in numeracy and literacy. Direct questioning is not the best way to talk to her, and time limits create high levels of anxiety which can then lead to a meltdown. I am sure that many of you reading this will identify with this young lady.

During her offsite education she finds the noise very uncomfortable and the teachers there seem to have little understanding of her needs and are very concentrated on achievement, and doing assessments in the same way as they have always done them.

Two weeks ago the staff had planned to do their numeracy and IT assessments, the young people had not bee informed about this, and for many of them that was not a problem but for Amelia (not her real name) this was the first in a catalogue of difficulties. As the time came closer for her to be tested her anxiety levels rose, the noise in the room intensified and she became more and more withdrawn. As she was withdrawn the other learners noticed the difference and began to question her, this increased her anxiety levels. I asked the tutor if we could go and sit in a quieter area, I was told to wait a few minutes until she had finished her delivery. So we sat and I talked quietly to Amelia, but could feel the anxiety rise. I told the other learners to stop asking questions and that Amelia was ok. Eventually it was time to do the assessment. We went to a quiet room where the assessor asked direct questions along with asking Amelia to make a choice from about 20 items. Amelia froze and refused to work. The assessor moved onto the next task, Amelia still refused to co-operate, now not speaking and becoming very agitated. The assessor moved onto the next task this time IT. Amelia’s level of anxiety now was very high, and I could see tear building ion her eyes. I stopped the test and explained to the assessor that direct questioning and too much choice was unsuitable for this learner. Amelia broke down as we left the room. She struggled through the remainder of the day with a lot of support and encouragement.

When Amelia left to go home I again discussed the testing methods with the assessor and the tutor, explaining that due to Amelia’s Autism she would never be able to achieve qualifications in this testing environment. It has taken Amelia two weeks to calm down from the experience and return to any form of learning environment.
She is no longer required to be assessed for numeracy, literacy or IT in this environment as we are doing a similar qualification with her in a more controlled and natural way, which suits her learning style and her anxiety. This young lady should never have been put in this situation if the teachers had only listened to me or read her notes.

How many other children are facing such high levels of anxiety due to adults not sufficiently recognising their needs, or making the correct adaptations to assessment? All children who have special needs come with comprehensive notes detailing their abilities and their difficulties. They need to be supported if they are to achieve, and there are many ways of assessing other than testing or questioning.

Parents fight for your child, as I know many of you do. Teachers listen to parents and make suitable arrangements for assessment, as well as looking at the need for assessment. Live should be made easier for these children not easier for adults who can adapt.

Tips for living and working with Autism

Many people have been asking me this week about any tips I have when working or living with people who have a diagnosis of ASC or display symptoms of ASC. So here are my top 10. They are in no particular order and as every person will have different sensory, societal differences not all of the tips will apply to every individual.

1. Avoid eye contact – Eye contact can be very disturbing and even painful for some people with ASC. Try sitting next to them rather than in front of them and do not insist they look at you when you’re talking to them.
2. Avoid waiting time – waiting can lead to anxiety which can lead to a melt down, so allow the child with Autism to go first or be at the front of a queue, this will make life easier for you both.
3. Allow self calming – Many people with ASC will recognise the signs of stress and imminent meltdown, at this point they may leave the room or begin some other self calming actions, allow them to continue with this as it is developing not only self awareness and self control but it may prevent a meltdown or need for restraint.
4. Allow thinking time – Every person will need some time to process information, for people with ASC this time may need to be extended as they process the information given and then process a response.
5. Recognise regression – following a meltdown or period of self calming a person with ASC may regress, this is not uncommon and may support the return to the neurotypical world.
6. Explain, reinforce and check – As any teacher will know these are all important tools for teaching anything. For the individual with ASC these tools are even more important. Transferring skills can be very difficult so you may need to start from the beginning again each time you change topics. Counting cars or counting dinosaurs to the child with ASC are different.
7. Support Routines – All schools follow some sort of timetable. This can be great for the child with ASC although they may become very ‘locked into’ the routine that they find the inevitable changes difficult to cope with, so give as much advance warning of changes as possible.
8. Learning styles – There is a lot of discussion about the relevance of learning styles in the classroom, but the child with ASC will learn very differently to others, so be prepared to have an alternative teaching style. You may find other children benefit from this too.
9. Do not try to make the child fit the school – children with ASC are less likely to fit into the schools plans than other children, be prepared to change your plans to fit the child. Pretending a child can adapt to fit into society will not help raise awareness of a hidden disability. This is about the structure of the school, its policies and procedures. The child with ASC may not be able to eat with other children or use the classroom toilets, so the school may need to make some changes to adapt to these needs.
10. Never forget individuality – Every child is an individual including every child with ASC, this condition will affect every person differently and the strategies you need will change from child to child too.

I have other tips, many of them are mentioned in my regular tweets, and others have been developed to meet the needs of specific children and adults. If you have any questions or would like any advice you can contact me here in comments or on twitter @oagconsultants or you can email me allison@oagconsultants.co.uk

Thanks for reading