Category Archives: Autism Spectrum

Autism, or autism spectrum includes Asperger’s syndrome

Why transitions may be difficult for children on the autism spectrum

We need to understand that children on the autism spectrum may have difficulties with transitions – moving from one activity to another.

Children on the autism spectrum may have difficulties with transition – moving between activities – at school. It is well documented that changes to routine are difficult for such children and that they can become fixed on one activity and have difficulty shifting their interest.

In any school day there are transitions, for example around break times and lunchtimes, or  heading to PE or music. There may also be transitions involved where there are visitors to school, such as visiting speakers and assemblies. These transitions may also be accompanied by changes in environment and possibly sensory issues. It is common for children on the autism spectrum to have sensory issues associated with touch, sound and vision.

There are also ‘vertical’ transitions as children move from one year level to the next. These transitions are particularly critical as children move from primary to secondary school and from school to adult life.

It is essential that schools attempt to minimise the stress that these transitions cause to children.

What steps can we take to reduce the stress of transitions for children on the autism spectrum?

We all need to remember that all children have their own needs and that these differences are especially apparent with children on the autism spectrum. The first step is to find out where the difficulties are for the individual. Once we have this information we can begin to find ways to ease transitions.

  • Establish a  routine and stick to it
  • Give ample warning when the routine needs to be changed
  • Give a timetable showing where transitions take place – a visual timetable may be appropriate
  • Avoid sensory overload where possible e.g. at an assembly, moving around the school
  • Have materials organised and accessible to move to a new activity e.g. have a workstation where the child can sit, with all the necessary supplies in place
  • Have a buddy, who can model the transition and remind where necessary
  • Keep instructions direct and unambiguous, you may be taken very literally
  • Parents and teachers need to work together – parents can share their knowledge of their own children with teachers

Sometimes a child on the autism spectrum may have limited or fixed interests. Try to incorporate these interests into school work and home activities, as this may allow the child to learn to develop new skills.

Other posts: what is autism? | sensory issues for children on the autism spectrum – vision

 

Sensory Issues in Autism: Vision

Sensory Issues for children on the autism spectrum: Vision

Recently attention has been drawn to the effect sensory issues may have on the well being of  children (and adults) on the autism spectrum. DSM 5 recognises that sensory issues may be significant for people on the autism spectrum.

Children on the autism spectrum may find that one or more of their senses becomes overwhelmed  by the demands of the environment.

In simple terms our senses are:

  • vision
  • hearing
  • smell
  • taste
  • touch (sense of pressure, temperature or pain)
  • balance (the vestibular system of the inner ear that detects movement and the position of the head)
  • the sense of the position of parts of our body (the proprioceptive system

Children on the autism spectrum may have  over sensitivity in one or more senses, or they may have under sensitivity. So providing an environment that is ‘neutral or low arousal’ is important.

Vision
What might cause distress?
  • bright lights, florescent lights
  • strong sunlight, reflections from sunlight through windows
  • strong patterns and colours
  • cluttered space; lots of things on the walls, overflowing shelves and table tops
How can stress be minimised?
  • indirect lighting e.g. up lighting, directional lighting over workspace
  • window shades
  • tinted lenses
  • remove clutter
  • neutral and plain colour schemes

What does your classroom look like?

All of these are simple solutions that can be used in a ‘mainstream’ school. Thought should also be given to transition areas. A clear visual reminder that children are entering a new learning zone should be given and this can include a graphical depiction of the child’s schedule. Particular thought needs to be given to changing areas. For example, each child should know where to keep outdoor shoes and hang their coat. This area should be separate from the learning area.

The autism education trust has a useful checklist that you can download here. (Opens in new window).

Remember that children on the autism spectrum may have very individual needs and that  you cannot expect the child to change to fit into your environment, and you will need to adapt the teaching environment.

What is autism?

Children on the autism spectrum in mainstream schools

Our understanding of the autism spectrum has changed rapidly in recent years and this is likely to continue. There have been great advances in knowledge through medical and sociological research and, in teaching, through reflective practitioners. We are also able to learn through listening to the voices of people on the autism spectrum.

The publication of DSM 5 ( the 5th and most current edition of  the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013) will have a significant impact in schools, particularly ones with an international and transient population as it redefines how ‘autism spectrum disorders’ or ASD are diagnosed. For a diagnosis of ASD – my preferred term is ‘autism spectrum condition’ – there must be evidence of a significant impairment in the domain of social communication and social interaction, and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities. Significant difficulties must exist in both domains.

DSM 5 also recognises that there may additionally be sensory processing issues when individuals interact with their environment. These sensitivities can be either ‘hyper’ (too much) or ‘hypo’ (too little) and may not be apparent until such time as the individual is overwhelmed by the demands of the environment (Lawson, 2013). There may be further ‘specifiers’ accompanying the diagnosis, which are particular to the individual. For example, a child may be diagnosed with ADHD alongside autism spectrum disorder.

Asperger’s Syndrome has disappeared from DSM 5. This form of ‘high functioning’ autism is now part of the ‘spectrum’ of autism. Of course, if somebody has been diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome in the past it will remain as their ‘label’, until they get a new diagnosis. It is worth noting that in some cases high functioning autistic people may still have areas of weakness that are not immediately apparent.

There are many children on the autism spectrum in mainstream schools. These children are very likely to need support in learning how to interact with others socially  or they may need modifications to the sensory environment, or they may have unusual behaviours – that their peers and teachers will need to be taught to accept.

In common with many children with learning differences, it is essential to bear in mind that children on the autism spectrum will have individual and unique sets of needs and that any steps taken by teachers or carers will need to reflect that fact. Furthermore, it is worth emphasising that the nature of the autism spectrum will presuppose that children will have very differing profiles of needs and that they will require unique adaptations.

Teachers need to ensure that they are sensitive to the individual’s characteristics, and follow the advice contained in the child’s learning plan. It may be that the child on the autism spectrum will not be able to adapt to ‘fit in’ with the norms and expectations of the school and that steps will need to be taken to change the wider school environment, not the child.

  • Did you know that 1 in 100 children is likely to be on the autism spectrum?
  • Boys are much more likely to be diagnosed than girls – particularly among higher functioning individuals.
  • It has been suggested that girls are under diagnosed.

There is plenty more information about the autism spectrum on the website of the Autism Education Trust: http://www.autismeducationtrust.org.uk/

– Adapted from part of a paper submitted to the University of Birmingham – please contact Mr Bob for more information.
Reference: Lawson, W. (2013, March 1). Autism spectrum conditions: the pathophysiological basis for inattention and the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. OA Autism