You walk in on Monday morning,
25 little faces are jumping about waiting for the cue to get ready for the day. If you are like many classrooms around Australia, you may have a few little people who may be standing out from the rest, why? They have autism.
In 2015, an estimated 164,000 people had autism, representing about 1 in 150 Australians.
Autism was most prevalent among children aged 5 to 14 in 2015. School Age. Some will be your students in your teaching career.
Autism is Here
Autism is here, and it isn’t going anywhere. Even though the term Autism is relatively fresh, coined in the last century it is has been around for what historians believe to be hundreds of years, if not always, it is just that we are now more aware. Just like now we know about Quantum physics and that the earth is actually round.
So if Autism is a part of our world and these little people are in the school system, where does that leave you as a teacher? For many educators, it can be very difficult to customize your teaching. Time restraints on teachers to fully educate the entire classroom, student by student in what can sometimes feel like a one size fits all curriculum, can draw a big deep breath. We get it.
So why are children with Autism in mainstream classrooms?
To begin with, every child has a right to an education and to be included. Segregation isn’t the answer for everyone. A community needs to be inclusive. All abilities inclusion stimulates acceptance which is essential. According to the University of Birmingham studies show that when our community is fully represented in the classroom and on the playground, that society excels all round.
Interesting right? Children that don’t meet the criteria for special needs education, what happens to them? If their needs are not being met in the mainstream system and they don’t qualify for special needs, a gap now exists. As we know as teachers and educators, gaps are dangerous
So here you are about to start, what do you need the most? You need to be able to identify what is going on with this little human and what their cues are. At Planet Spectrum, we believe that small steps make up a big journey. So let’s start here with some tools to help you identify some cues.
To begin with, find out if the child’s parent has a Flight Manual.
A flight manual is a list of tips, triggers and behavioral characteristics of the child. This helps you to identify possible triggers and calming and motivators. If they don’t have one, ask them to consider putting one together. You can find the link here for our complimentary one for Planet Spectrum HERE.
Each child, actually all humans, if you want to get technical, have sets of stress signals. Our output as a response to the input. For kids with Autism, these are important, because it helps us to identify when they may not be coping. If we can do this we can help avoid certain outcomes, make them feel comfortable which ultimately has a positive impact on your classroom and YOU!
Some of these stress signals will be really obvious, but some may be incredibly subtle.
One is the Shut Down.
You may notice the child’s head may be down, his or her eyes are downcast, they might be on the floor. They have the look of shutting down. What they are doing is shutting down the outside input coming in, or they may be completely stuck with no idea of where to go behaviorally now. Computer says no, so the shutdown happens.
Another is Seeking Behaviour.
Seeking Behaviour is sensory seeking behavior. What can appear to be an outburst, or an out of control child. Just an example you might see him or her- tipping pencils on the floor, kicking or hitting students or other objects in the room. It is an outburst of outward physical high energy action. What is it? It is all that fear and anxiety building up like a thunderstorm. There is activity happening under that behavior. They are not trying to be naughty. The reason is that their body is seeking input to calm their nervous system down.
Absconding – which put simply leaving, running away, running off. Why? The body’s fight or flight mechanism has set off. This can be dangerous and even deadly for a child that wanders away. According to Rehare Care’s wandering and elopement survey found that approximately half of the parents of children with autism report that their child elopes, with the behavior peaking at age four. Among these families, nearly 50% say that their child went missing long enough to cause significant concern about safety. You can understand why parents get anxious right?
This is when you see the child behaving like a little ping pong ball, jumping from activity to activity. For one little one close to my heart, she runs in circles or repetitively hits her shoe against something. The child is winding up feeling anxious.
What is this? Sometimes unavoidable and sometimes unexpected, the meltdown is a result of sensory overload. We are in nontechnical terms, have absolutely no way of stopping that behavior until it has subsided and been fully released from the body. To some, it can look like a tantrum. It is not. It just looks that way.
So this is a good start. You have identified some pre-cursor behavior from your student, now what? Next week’s blog will be on tools to make your classroom calm and Autism friendly.