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Top Tips for making mainstream work for students with Autism

Part One- Get the routines right

Lots of students with Autism struggle in school- they tell us that mainstream schools are too busy, too confusing, too loud- all in all just too much!

However, other research tells us that lots of times mainstream school has lots of benefits for many Autistic pupils- they get to stay close to home for one thing! There are lots of benefits for all the other students in class too- they get to enjoy the interests and enthusiasm of children with autism, as well as developing their communication skills.

Here is Part one of Learning & Wellbeing Psychology’s 3 top tips for getting mainstream school to work for students with Autism.

Think about your preferred way of starting the day. Take a moment to think in detail about all the things you do during that time- for a moment focus on the things which in particular cause you the most discomfort if you miss them or are unable to do them. These challenges are the same ones Autistic students need to cope with, but because of their difficulties in shifting attention, coping with sensory challenges and managing more than one thing at once, disruptions are so much harder for them to cope with.

We can ease these transitions by using them to teach children how to follow a visual schedule rather than needing physical prompts from adults.

Initially, an adult can accompany the child through each step in the routine, slowly fading their support so that only visual prompts are used to promote independence at the points where the child gets stuck in the routine. At this point of confidence and fluency in the routine, it becomes possible to teach some critical skills that the child will need throughout their life- these skills can include asking for something they want, switching their attention between two things, requesting help when things go wrong or are too tricky, managing waiting and asking for a break.

There are two keys to making routine work as a teaching opportunity and they are both equally important! One is being clear what the pay-off for completing the routine is for the child.

We want our children to follow class routines so they can be included in their community and fall in love with the social world- we need their buy-in, so it is vital that there is something in it for them.

Settling in to class can be a natural reward if the child enjoys chatting with peers, but if they are less in love with the social world, time playing a turn taking game with a key worker might get their interest and co-operation more effectively. The other consideration is getting a sense of whether they are a ‘big picture’ or ‘little picture’ learner. Does this kid need to know all the steps in the sequence upfront in order to feel calm- or perhaps they can only cope with one or two steps at a time and the whole thing is just too much for them? For ‘big picture’ learners, a visual schedule for the whole routine might work well, but for ‘little picture’ learners, it might be best to give them information about smaller steps within the routine and offer more frequent opportunities for little rewards. High fives and tickles can easily be added in as rewards for children who are losing concentration or getting confused. It can take some time to find the right reward for the student– getting to know their interests and enthusiasms is a vital part of this.

Once the child is fluent in the routine, we have lots of teaching opportunities- if we plan some subtle sabotage.

If we don't plan to disrupt the routine life will do that for us- but at times when the child is unprepared and we are not available to help. For instance, if we put another child’s coat on the peg, there is some problem-solving the child needs to do- they might move the coat themselves, or they might need to ask for help- and they might need to wait until there is an adult available in order to be able to move on to the next step. Problem-solving, requesting, waiting and asking for help can all be taught in this way. An advantage of this way of working is that we aren’t waiting for the inevitable change or hiccup to take our pupils by surprise- we can ensure that they are prepared for those difficulties and problems ahead of time. We can also ensure that we are going to be right there- and in the right calm state of mind- to help them cope when things don’t go according to plan. This task analysis of daily routines also highlights why they can be a source of so much stress for our pupils and what support needs to be on offer so that they are ready for learning.

Using routines as a teaching opportunity is a useful way of ensuring that autistic children learn the flexibility skills that they will need throughout their lives. If you want to be sure not to miss the next two parts - subscribe to our mailing list.

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