Behaviour Matters

Posts tagged ‘education’

New services

Last month saw the launch of some new service for me. I realised that although my advice on twitter and email is growing sometimes parents need more than words so I have introduced a home visit scheme. This will also be a advocacy service for parents and children coping with Autism. Sometimes it is possible to run out of steam and just be able to face another meeting, another discussion about behaviour or another appointment with GP, EP, CAMHS, OT, SLT, or any other letters you can think of. So I am available to help you with these meetings, help you fight for what is right.

The second new service is to deliver workshops; these will be similar to the training, but shorter and more generic. Some of these will be delivered for specific companies or schools others will be open for anyone to attend (for a small fee). The open workshops will cover one aspect of Autism and give people the opportunity to ask questions at the end about anything. A quick fire Q&A session to help people overcome issues they have or feel unable to cope with. Very relaxed and led by the attendees. Mostly these will be held in Hull or East Yorkshire, as I live here, but if you can arrange a venue and enough people I can go any where.

Both of these new services are to compliment my existing services of training in schools. Schools’ training is a three tiered approach.
1. On over view of Autism so that you are prepared if a child might come into your school, or because staff identify a gap in their knowledge.
2. A specific training course for schools who have children with Autism already or who are expecting one or more to start in the following term/year. This is more specific to schools, education and the difficulties that can be faced by the child.
3. This is more specific. In this level of training I will observe interaction and behaviours of a particular child, then work with teachers and TAs as well as other staff to develop strategies and understanding of this child. The strategies used here may not be suitable for any other child as they will be very individualised, but they should help prevent exclusion and melt downs. Many of the strategies suggested are not a financial burden to the school, most just meant he teacher taking a little more time in planning or classroom management.

The advice I give via twitter and email is still available as it is a quick way to support parents who want help immediately. So don’t stop asking, I’m here to help.

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.

Can mainstream education meet the needs of children with Autism

Autism in mainstream schools is becoming quite popular both with parents and schools. Many parents want their child to entre the local mainstream primary school for many reasons
• It is local so makes life a little easier in the mornings
• Their child goes to school with his/her peers
• Socialising is good for the child with autism
• Many parents want to see their child as ‘normal’
• With no diagnosis mainstream is the obvious choice
• School say they understand and parents are content
• Even with a diagnosis schools say they understand as they have had children previously with the condition.
• Schools reassure parents that staff members are trained and if necessary they will bring in more support.

The list will go on, but I am sure if you are an Autism parent you will recognise some of the points above. Some of the feelings and expectations you had before your child started his or her new school.

From many of the stories and experiences I have had over just the past 18 months the reality of a child with Autism in mainstream schools is very different to that promised or expected. I do realise that many schools are excellent and support children extremely well; their training is up to date and relevant and has been delivered with both the needs of the child and the needs of the school in mind. I am also aware that the stories I hear may not be the norm and my experiences are usually at the extreme. Never the less they are real and they are happening in the British education system now.

Taking each point individually.

• It is local so makes life a little easier in the mornings

Where this may be true as any autism parent will tell you mornings are difficult no matter what time you get up or how organised you are. If the child is young they will inevitably lose something (this is partly normal for any child in primary school). They you add in changes in routines due to weather or clocks changing, unusual sleep patterns and uniforms and mornings are busy, being local may remove some stress but having a taxi to collect your child and take them to the school gate can be a blessing.

• Their child goes to school with his/her peers

The child with Autism may not be aware of their peers, so is it important they go to school with them? I know many parents will still want this and I can understand it, but really it should be more about what the child needs.

• Socialising is good for the child with autism

I cannot disagree that socialising is good for all children, but it is important to remember that if your child with Autism is falling behind in their education they will notice and this could have a negative impact on their social skills and their education. Socialising with children of similar ability and who may act in a similar way may have a much more beneficial affect on your child.

• Many parents want to see their child as ‘normal’

This point may be controversial. First there is the question of ‘normal’. Then there is acceptance on the part of the parent. Every parent I speak to loves their child unconditionally; they see the child they have as normal for them. This is all you can ask for.

• With no diagnosis mainstream is the obvious choice

If your child with Autism is your first child and you have no other children to compare them with you may not see that they are different, you enrol them into the local school as this is the most natural thing to do. You may have noticed that your child is a little different to others but you consider this to be individuality. As a parent you have developed strategies that work and assume all parents are doing the same thing.

• School say they understand and parents are content

At the pre-enrolment stage you may discuss your concerns with the teachers, they say that they understand and you believe them, why would you not. This is their job they understand children and know how to cope with them.

• Even with a diagnosis schools say they understand as they have had children previously with the condition.

The school explain that they have had many children with Autism previously and they understand the differences and difficulties they may face. This may be true. You as a parent take this on board and believe they will do the best for your child. You have discussed your concerns and explained your child’s difficulties and the school are happy to accept him/her.

• Schools reassure parents that staff members are trained and if necessary they will bring in more support.

Another controversial point here, based on my experience. The school will accept any child onto the school roll, begin the school year with minimal extra support if any until they get top a point of realisation that they cannot cope, and then get in the extra support. Many parents need to fight for this and it can take a long time, during which time the child is not achieving goals or enjoying school. The long term effects of this can be very negative for parents and children.

In reality, over the last 18 months I have witnessed or hear of children being permanently excluded due to behaviour that teachers cannot cope with (or maybe don’t understand), children being locked in cupboards as a way of coping with behaviour, schools wanting the child to change to fit the school system, children either refusing to use school toilets causing constipation or being sent home in soiled nappies as no one can get close enough to him to change him. I find this all unacceptable. Then while I was writing this I have found a tweet that made me smile and remember the good practice out there. One parent has sent me a tweet saying how excellent the mainstream school her son attends has excelled at welcoming her child even changing the curriculum for him. So there is good practice out there.

So don’t be afraid to shout and complain and fight for your child, it is a difficult road, but very worthwhile. You may be tired and feel you are fighting a loosing battle but you need to keep fighting. There are many others out there fighting the same fight, both parents and organisations.

2013 – Aims and Ambitions

Some of your reading this will have a vague idea of my current plans and my current status, others will not.

I have been asking the same on Twitter and Face book for a couple of weeks now; what do teachers want to know about Autism and what do parents want teachers to know about Autism?  I have an idea of what people want to know, but really want to understand your needs more fully.  I will then use the information to develop training and a second book to help teachers and children with autism in mainstream schools.

Why do I want to do this?  I have been reading papers and reports and have uncovered some scary statistics related to children with Autism and exclusion, teachers feeling unprepared and unable to teach children with autism, and the inevitable cuts in funding will not make anything easier for the children, parents or teachers.  I also have evidence in my own work of the difficulties schools face and how they deal with those problems.  In one paper statistics state that 1 in 86 children have special educational needs that are related to autism spectrum disorder.  I work in a small unit of 24 children (all permanently excluded from school) of those 24 I estimate that 6 of them either are or could be diagnosed with ASD.  That brings the ratio to 1:4 and shows that mainstream education is not prepared for the behaviours or equipped well enough to support children with ASD.

My aim is to develop a training package to accompany my second book.  The training will be designed specifically for school staff and specifically aimed to help them support and understand Autism.  Currently 72% of schools are dissatisfied with the extent of their teacher’s training in Autism, and I in 5 schools with children with autism or Asperger syndrome have no teachers with autism specific training at all.  I am sure that as parents this may not surprise you but will cause concern.

I will approach schools; primary and secondary, as well as local authorities’ across the country with my training.  I will armed with information found in the Department for Education, Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability. March 2011 (published in Dec 2012) along with information from other research papers and your comments.  I will start try and turn the tide on understanding Autism in Education.

If you would like more information or think the teachers in your child’s school would like to be involved then contact me at allison@oagconsultants.co.uk

Lets make things better.

Thank you parents

I know that one person reading this will think it is aimed at her, but it isn’t. This week’s blog is about teachers, teaching assistants and supporters who become part of a child’s life. We have professional boundaries we cannot cross, yet we also have a moral commitment to the individual. We have access to so much confidential and personal information that we may know more about the child and the family than many of their friends do. There may be some professional reading this who will consider my next statement unprofessional, but I also develop a strong relationship with the people I work with, they are my friends, in many cases the people I am teaching or supporting have become more of a friend than my colleagues. But then at the end of the school year or the term or if I need to move jobs I am taken away from this very special ‘friend’. I may never see them again, but I do often think about them. The young girl from Edinburgh who attended the residential college I worked in. Where is she now? She will no longer be in the care system. Is she happy? Has she overcome her difficulties? Does she still dye her hair Orange? Or there are the boys I worked with at Newcastle College, did they ever go on to become the architect and accountant they wanted to be. Does the oldest one still drive? What happened when they left care? There are the sad questions about the ladies I taught in the prison, are they still offending? How are their children coping? Are they in the offending cycle? Are they still alive? The care home I worked in where I had to leave after whistle blowing, are the residents still there? If not where are they now? Has the home improved its standards of care? So many people have touched my life, allowed me to enter their world for a brief moment in time, but they have left me with so much. They have ignited my passion for what I do; they encouraged me to learn more about the autistic world and inspired me to pass on my knowledge to improve the lives of others.

Not only do we build attachments with the people we work with and support but they give us so much that they never really leave us. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for them, those wonderful people on the autistic spectrum who cannot cope with changes, who find socialising difficult and who have difficulty imaging a world without you in it. We as teachers move on and leave, sometimes very quickly, we may not be forgotten but the memories may be tainted by the anxiety caused by us leaving.

I would just like to say to all parents that the decisions we make as carers, teachers, support workers or teaching assistants to move on is never an easy one, and we never forget your children, they have moulded us, helped us, and touched our lives forever.

Thank you for allowing us time with your child.

Education and Qualifications

Time for a new blog, well it is Saturday after all.

This week I will discuss qualifications and the need for them. As an individual I do not believe in the need for qualifications as we have them today, there is too much emphasis put on the need to reach certain grades in a variety of subjects. I do think there is an argument for understanding and comprehending, knowing how to use the information you are taught at school. But ultimately what do the qualifications do for us?

Some of you reading this will know about my graduation ceremony on Thursday, and now may be wondering why I did a degree if I don’t believe in the qualification structure. It’s a good point, with a simple answer. When I left school I had a handful of CSEs nothing very impressive or worthwhile, I drifted through school and have to some extent drifted through life. I always knew I could have done better but even at the age of 15 I knew the qualifications were not the answer to life. As I grew older and realised that pieces of paper were important I had none so started again. The latest degree was something to keep me busy (I get bored very quickly with nothing to do) I didn’t do it for academic gain or employment advancement, just to stop me getting bored.

I remember a few years ago talking to a young girl on a train, she was about 13 I think, we started talking about school, future, college, university and work. She was telling me that she had to sit some exams the following day but that she hadn’t done any revision as was worried. Thinking about this I began to think about the need to pressurise young people into believing that if they fail now then their lives will be forever awful. This just is not true. In my opinion the exams you sit can help you on to the next step of your journey through life. At 16 if that journey differs from the path you intended it will not end your life but take you on a different journey with possibly a different destination, this may be a better one.

During the ceremony on Thursday I was sitting next to an older gentleman who thought he would be the oldest person to graduate, he wasn’t. He asked me if my qualification would help me in my work. I said that it might but probably wont other than by having a few more letters after my name some people may be more inclined to employ my services, and that the research I have done has given me more understanding of a range of subjects.

To end this very unorganised thought process of mine I can easily sum up the need for education and the need for qualifications as two separate points. Yes we need to educate people in all sorts of topics and ideas, not just academic. Yes we need to assess capabilities and understanding of those topics and ideas. Yes employers need to have some way of gauging the knowledge of prospective employees as do some educators. No we do not need to pressure children into reaching targets set by others and that do not reflect the child’s growth in all areas. No we do not need to put young people on a path to failure if they do not achieve. No we do not need to assess ability based on the results of a one or two hour exam.

Allow children to learn at their own pace, ensure they learn the important points of life and accentuate the positives. Do not allow children to feel they have failed at the age of 16, life is just beginning not ending at this age.
I don’t have the answer to the problem of assessing knowledge and understanding in a way that suits everyone, they may be no answer, but testing and examining children form the age of seven is not the right way. Allow children to cherish their childhood and do not allow them to fail from a young age.

Environments and Senses

 

This week’s blog will combine the previous two weeks.  I will be talking about how the school environment can be too much for some children with ASC.

 

As a child I didn’t notice the environment too much, I can’t remember feeling anything going into the school hall or when using the school toilets.  There was always a curious feeling of ‘not being allowed here’ when I had to go into the school staff room, and a feeling of being ‘in trouble’ when I had to go and see the head teacher.  But that’s about it for me.  When my children went to school again I didn’t give the environment much notice.  I didn’t know what to look for and was more interested in the education of my children than the environment.  I suppose that is true for most parents and children who do not experience the environment in the physical way that ASC children can.

 

During my time working with adults and children with ASC I have learnt how important the environment can be.  I have also seen how a mainstream school that tells parents they understand the needs of the child don’t always understand the environmental needs.  They may be referring to the educational needs (learning and teaching methods) and the social needs (friendships, rules, logical thinking).  In mainstream education teachers are taught and encouraged to use bright displays to support children’s emotional wellbeing by displaying their work.  There are displays covering every piece of wall space available, usually in bright primary colours.  They may have pieces of work nicely mounted onto contrasting paper which are then placed on boards in a random pattern.  Or they may have lots of photographs of children on an outing or doing an activity, again these are usually displayed on irregular angles.  Many of them look very impressive and have taken some dedicated TA’s a long time as well as the children.  For a child with ASC these beautiful and well constructed displays can be an assault on their vision.  The colours can be too distracting, the placement of the work too disorganised, the contrast in colours too harsh, the whole thing can be painful to look at, but so bright that they cannot avoid looking at it.  All of this can then cause a child to have a autistic meltdown, but the teachers cannot see a trigger as they are not aware that it is the room its self.

 

The same can happen in school halls.  Generally these are large halls with high ceilings and sound echoes around the room.  Children are expected to sit in this space and concentrate on the teacher or a speaker.  Many children find this difficult, just sitting still during an assembly can be difficult.  The child with ASC will have the added difficulty of the compounded assault of sound in their head due to the echo and acoustics of the room.  Again this can lead to a meltdown with no obvious trigger.  Alternatively if the room is empty the child may enjoy spending time in the room playing with the acoustics, shouting, spinning, running, stamping hearing the different sounds reverberating off the walls and ceiling.  During this time the assault on his hearing is not painful as he is in control of it and he is not expected to focus his attention onto the speaker at the front.  If the hall is used for PE then teachers can have the same problem trying to get the child to concentrate due to sounds bouncing around the space.  Another use for school halls is for lunch times, this time the noise level and the acoustics play a big part in the affect the space has on the child with ASC.  Depending on the sensitivity of the child’s sense of hearing and the power of other senses (taste, smell, sight) this level of noise may not be a distraction, but if the child is not interested in food or understand the importance of food or the feeling of hunger the noise may be too distracting to enable him to eat.

 

Speaking of smell (scent) again these can be very distracting for some children.  If the classroom is close to the kitchen then the smell of cooking food may be the cause of a meltdown, or if the toilets are even slightly smelly the child may refuse to use them, resulting in pain and discomfort.  If the teacher or TA changes her perfume or personal scent in any way this can create a difficult situation for the child who is trying to understand how she looks and sounds the same but smells different.  This again can be an assault on the child’s sense of smell and cause a meltdown with no apparent trigger.

 

There are so many environmental factors to consider if your child has ASC.  Flickering lights, sun through the windows, temperature, sounds, smells, routines, and changes.  It is difficult to imagine the effects all of these have on a child (unless you went through it yourself).  As a parent you will understand the consequences of getting it wrong, but it is still difficult to comprehend how it might affect the child, and yet some children thrive and cope in these ever changing environments, and we expose children to these environments forgetting how much impact they may have.

 

It is difficult for any school, classroom, home, shop, station or anywhere to adapt the environment to meet the needs of everyone, some children need a high level of stimulation to enable them to learn others need very little stimulation, and there is no way to accurately balance it.  but as a parent you can understand the difficulties and ensure that the school your child attends has some understanding before they start.

 

When you visit a school don’t just ask about learning styles, teaching abilities, access to alternative curriculums, availability of support, training and understanding of the condition and behaviour policies (these are all important) but you also need to know if the toilets that are cleaned every morning and evening, but used by 60 children throughout the day will still be smelly, if the area your child will be working in is highly visual, remember it can be distracting or even painful for your child to work in that space all day, if he is expected to eat his meal in a very noisy and crowded hall, this could mean he may not eat at all.  Go into the toilets towards the end of the day on a classroom visit and experience the aromas, ask to go into the hall to experience the acoustics, make sure the school can provide a time out space for the child so he can self regulate his senses overload when needed. Ask if the lighting can be adjusted as bright lights can be painful.

 

They are simple alterations that can make a big difference to your child’s ability to learn.  Don’t be afraid to ask.