It’s ok, you must have fixed him

6 Oct

I don’t know how many times I have heard that phrase when referring to autistic students, and I am sure parents recognise it too.

20121006-194249.jpgLet me use an analogy for a moment. You wear glasses, you can see? Brilliant, then you won’t need those any more, I’ll have those, thank you.

What am I talking about? Structures.

I had an autistic student come into the mainstream school I worked in. The Senco decided he wasn’t in the right school, and began looking for a new school. The trouble is, just because he is autistic does not necessarily meant that he has a learning disability, which he would normally need to have in order to attend a special school. In Anthony’s case, he was actually at the expected average for his age in learning terms, the trouble simple was that he had autism. What is autism? A condition that means he has social and communication difficulty, and struggles to make sense of the social cues around him.

That alone would not place him in a special school.

I began a mini fight to help Anthony, and managed to persuade the Senco to allow me some teaching time off my timetable to do so.

What did I do?

  • First I threw out the school diary, it was bulky, full of too much needless information and too confusing, I made an A5 file system, with a coloured divider for each subject, and plain paper. When the homework was written in and filed, it was then torn out when it was completed. If the file was empty, he had no homework. In the front of the folder was a sheet, laminated, on which was a picture of each piece of equipment Anthony needed for the day. He had to report to me so I could check his equipment against the list, and was rewarded for having it all, each day.
  • In his pocket he had a prompt card, reminding him what he needed to make sure he had before he left the classroom. He kept losing uniform, bags, coats, all over the place. This was a was of helping him learn to take control of his possessions without adult help.
  • Into all of his lessons was built a consistent structure where the teacher would fill in a write on wipe off card that showed him the tasks, a box for him to tick when they were completed, ‘and then…. ‘ at the bottom so he knew what his reward would be.
  • We built into his timetable a social skills lesson, where he learned all the social rules, raised any concerns, then we would work through them with social stories.

What happened next?

Well it worked, of course! He became less nasty, less naughty in class, more organised and therefore learned well.

What did the school do?

well, clearly you have fixed him, as he does not seem to have any issues any more, therefore you do not need to work with him any more, we need you to teach this bottom set English class. Instead.

I will go back to my analogy. We did not CURE him of autism, I merely put the visible structures in place that he needed in order to function as normal in society.

There is no cure for autism, but you can live a normal life, with the right support and structures. I only wish the education system would understand this too.

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