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
I came across this passage recently in an article about autism and thought it made a great summary of some of the characteristics of any effective teacher:
Our respondents suggested that effective teachers were flexible but predictable. They had high expectations but were not too harsh or critical. They set clear rules but were still child centered. They allowed for differences but didn’t ignore similarities. They provided support without creating dependency. The teachers who made a difference for the respondents in this sample seemed to balance these tensions. In many ways, what makes a teacher effective for children with Asperger Syndrome are the same behaviors and characteristics that make a teacher effective with other children. However, the presence or absence of these characteristics may hold special significance for children with Asperger Syndrome.
Sciutto, M., Richwine, S., Mentrikoski, J., & Niedzwiecki, K. (2012). A Qualitative Analysis of the School Experiences of Students with Asperger Syndrome. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities , 27 (3), 177-188.
The SENIA – Special Education Network in Asia -Conference 2015 took place in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia from March 26 to 28, 2015. This year the SENIA conference combined with the EARCOS Teacher Conference.
The conference took place in a smart resort with views out over the bay that would fit most people’s idea of a tropical island paradise, and yes, there were opportunities for sundowners by the pool with the waves lapping on the beach! However, there was much work to be done during the day!
I was privileged to be at a Pre- Conference ‘Brain frames: Graphic Tools for Language, Literacy, Teaching and Learning’ with Dr Bonnie Singer. This whole day session allowed us to benefit from Bonnie’s immense experience both as a practitioner and researcher. This was made even more enjoyable as she has a relaxed and professional presentation style. Once we came to the rest of the conference her sessions were first on my list! Needless to say, I cannot begin to go into the details of ‘Brain Frames’TM but suffice to say that I am already trying out some of the six basic graphic organisers with the children who I support at school.
For more information on Brain Frames visit http://www.architectsforlearning.com
It was during a further session that Dr Singer made the argument that I considered to be the biggest ‘take-away’ of the conference, the importance of ‘spacial’ memory in language comprehension. The ability to ‘see’ or visualise content is so important to comprehension as it allows us to recognise and understand why and how different text structures look different. It allows us to sort out what are main ideas, and what are details. I work with children who have difficulties with executive function and with visual working memory, and I see them struggle with comprehension every day. Hopefully using some of these visual and graphical tools will allow them to build up their ability to ‘visualise’.
One of the great advantages of SENIA for a special needs or learning support teacher is the sheer number of sessions that are directly relevant to that field. It was fantastic to hear Lori Bol and Stephen Shore talking about Autism from their experiences as well as their studies. Dr Shore is an adult on the autism spectrum and Lori Bol has a son who is on the autism spectrum. As we strive towards making the most of the strengths of people on the autism spectrum there is so much we can learn from those who experience autism everyday of their lives.
If you are a learning support teacher in Asia, you should try to get to the annual SENIA conference as part of your professional development. I hope to see you in Kuala Lumpur next year!
More information about SENIA is available on the website http://www.senia.asia/
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:
- 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.
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.
I found this article http://gu.com/p/4vnep from the Guardian very interesting. Corinne Duyvis writes about her reaction to a childhood diagnosis of Autism. If you are worried about ‘labelling’ children – or rather professionals doing so – you should read this first hand perspective.