Day 25. Autism Awareness month continues …
James, like many other children on the Autistic Spectrum, has huge issues with organisation skills. This week we bought his fourth school hat! I have no idea where there vaporise to but much like a boomerang … all these hats seem to eventually find their way back to us. So this time last week Thomas had lost his hat and James had lost his hat. Tom’s showed up and we bought James another hat (we had to because he cannot cope with being in the wrong uniform!!) and now James’ hat has turned up! So now we have a plethora of school hats which is fortunate … as I suspect at least one of the hats we have will disappear at some point or other.
James finds it difficult to process lots of verbal instructions at once. If you have a child with ASD or if you’re teaching a child with ASD, when talking use short, direct sentences giving instructions. Use checklists with visual supports as these are really helpful. If the class is completing a task, break the task down into small steps, just like a checklist. This will help the ASD child to process the task more effectively and also gives them a scaffold so there are better able to complete the task. Modeling this process is useful and might help the child to learn to checklist for themselves as they increase in independence.
When we were visiting possible schools for James for Prep, James was able to hear a fridge humming several classrooms down from the Prep room we were visiting. He is really sensitive to noises, smells and movement that others may not even notice or detect. Fluorescent lights and interactive whiteboards have been causing issues for many of the kids I’ve been visiting in the schools. One little boy had been inadvertently placed under a fluoro light. I observed him in the classroom shielding his eyes from the light for the whole lesson. This of course impacted on his ability to learn, his posture and his general well being. Another child had a classroom near the tuckshop and was really upset by the smells from the tuckshop. Whiteboards can be an issue too if children are placed too close to them. some children are super sensitive to light and they will even detect the flicker rate in screens and whiteboards. It can give the children headaches, distort their vision, scramble their thoughts and make them feel quite unwell. The children I’ve observed were not able to verbalise the discomfort they were experiencing. In one case the discomfort resulted in poor behaviour and in the other is resulted in the child constantly complaining of feeling sick. You really have to look for the trigger with these children. The presenting problem is very rarely the actual problem.
Our classrooms these days are not really ASD friendly places. These days there are posters and word lists over every surface; there are things hanging from the roof; there is art work displayed everywhere – it is very visually overstimulating. Add to this the fact that most schools now seat the children in desk clusters. Often the desks don’t directly face the board and often the children share materials such as pencils and other materials. This really increases the amount of social demands on ASD kids. Think back to our parents schooling experience. All the desks were separated in rows facing the board and there was one classroom accessory – a clock! Classrooms were quiet, focused places of learning where you learnt independently. It occurs to me that these classrooms were far more ASD friendly than our modern classrooms.
A number of our schools have just replaced their bells with an automatic ringing system. They ring very loudly and have a very abrasive tone. One of the little boys I live with has been really suffering with the new bells at his school. The school have kindly disengaged the ringer outside his classroom but this little boy’s reaction to the bell is still enormous. His brain kicks straight into fight/flight when the bell rings and he either runs away or hides. He cannot control this response.
Teachers these days have a really tough job. There are many children with a myriad of issues within their classroom, and there are such a diverse range of needs to be met. What I always say is though – don’t change one thing for one child – change your whole practice for the benefit of every child in the class. Any change you make for an ASD child (checklists, visual supports, simplifying instructions) will benefit all the children. Self regulation visuals, physical activity breaks, quiet corners, behaviour systems – all these things will benefit every child in your classroom. An ASD friendly classroom is a good classroom for learning for all children.