It is not very often that I post about autism, it’s not because I am ignoring it or it doesn’t have an impact on our lives, but with seven children in our family, it is just ‘there’ and we get on as best we can. However since returning to school this term Tyrus has been struggling with busy times at school like assemblies, or if they have someone come in to talk to the entire school in the hall, so the very wonderful Victoria from Starlight and Stories kindly offered to write a guest post for me giving me some helpful tips and tricks to help Tyrus (and his teachers) with this particular challenge.
Children with Autism, often find busy times of the day more stressful than most of us. Navigating these times in school can be particularly challenging, both for the student themselves and for school staff. The below is intended as a guide, to some of the strategies that may help.
However, please note that each student is different. And that although I may be an Autism Specialist Teacher, my experience tells me that it is the parents who are the true experts. Involving them and asking for advice is the most valuable thing you can do to ensure success in any situation.
Give Alternatives To Busy Situations.
If it’s an assembly or other large gathering watching through a door, or being allowed to come in last or leave first can all help. As can permission to leave at any point if needed, with a clear plan about where the student can go.
Ensure that low arousal preferred alternatives are available at break time. Computers, iPads, and activities focusing on students’ special interests all work well. This doesn’t mean that students shouldn’t be allowed to play outside with their peers. It just means that positive alternatives to doing so can help them to choose wisely on those days when their emotions are high.
Think About Ways To Reduce Sensory Overload.
One of the biggest difficulties in busy areas is sensory overload, this can make it difficult for students to follow instructions and to process what is happening. Finding ways to reduce this overload will differ massively from student to student. Ear defenders for example make a big difference to some children, whereas others find them annoying. Some students find weighted vests helpful, while others just need to get away from it all. Speak to parents, and trial different things, but be very aware that external stimuli has a massive impact.
Key, is that if a child has become overloaded by sensory stimuli it will be very difficult for them to process what you are saying. Keep language to a minimum, and where possible offer visual choices e.g. on cards about what to do next.
Have A Plan For When It All Gets Too Much.
Having an escape route planned can make a huge difference. Make sure students always feel that they have a way out of busy situations. This will vastly reduce Meltdowns and ensure that they don’t receive sanctions which could otherwise be avoided. In an ideal world, students should have access to a dark den, quiet room or sensory area to help them self regulate when needed. If this isn’t available a box of low stimuli, preferred activities placed outside of the busy area can often help students to feel calm enough to return at a later stage.
Give Extrinsic Rewards When Things Go Well
I’m a big fan of extrinsic rewards. After all, I love my job but I still expect to get paid at the end of it. In turn, if I’m asking a student to do something that is difficult for them then I expect to reward them for it. Crisps, chocolates, sweets or tokens to trade in for bigger rewards all work well. Ensure rewards are immediate and that a student will be successful. So if you know a student struggles to sit in a busy area for longer than five minutes, ensure the first reward is given after more minutes and then at regular intervals afterwards. If you can tie rewards into a student’s special interests they are likely to be particularly effective.
Remain Calm And Positive Even When Things Go Wrong
No one gets things right every time and even the best laid plans can go wrong. Ensure that if a student’s behaviour deteriorates or if they have a meltdown you have a plan in place. If sanctions need to happen – e.g. a student needs to come inside because of aggression – that other activities are in place for them to do.
Ensure they know that you do not want to sanction them, apologise for doing so and show them that with small manageable steps (e.g. showing they are calm by doing a low arousal activity) that they can go back to doing preferred activities.
Above all ensure that at all times no matter what behaviours are exhibited, the student knows that you like them as a person. After all, would you do your best for someone who didn’t like you?
I am very pleased to say that I printed out the advice and took it along to Tyrus’s parents evening so that we could discuss further and the change has been amazing, it’s as if everyone now ‘gets it’ and Tyrus is consistently surprising and astounding us all with his attitude and coping mechanisms, so I would like to send a huge virtual hug to Victoria as she has had an enormous impact, from the bottom of my heart THANKYOU xxx