Q&A Session – ensuring a smooth start for our Autistic learners

AD2EB097-95A5-4055-B6E5-38534174BAE0Yesterday I had the wonderful experience of being the guest speaker at at Q&A session held by the staff of the Margaret River Independent School.

My mind has been in overdrive all night, revisiting all the questions and thinking about all the other information I could have shared with limitless time! I was so aware that teachers want to be in their classrooms preparing for their first day with students, yet these teachers where engaged and attentive and asked meaningful, compassionate questions. I really appreciated that.

So I thought I would write, briefly about a few of the things that can make for a smooth start to the year for everyone.

  1. Forget everything you think you know about Autism. Try and put all the preconceived ideas about autism and the student aside – see the child and see them in the context of the new environment of your classroom.
  2. Build connection! I do this through asking parents to complete a few simple profile sheets for me about their child. They know them best! I also use the Autism Matrix from ‘Positive Partnerships’ for the child’s therapy providers to complete. I end up with an outline of a ‘Student Profile’ which I add to throughout the year as I learn more – always start with the strengths and areas of interests so it’s the first thing that jumps out at you when you read through the profile. This supports a growth mindset. I also use this sheet to run meetings – guiding the discussion to ensure nothing important is missed.
  3. Have the child share with you about their strengths and passions. I prefer the word ‘passion’ as it acknowledges the emotional attachment children have to their interest. The words ‘special interest’ which are used in most literature about Autism implies that it’s a ‘bad’ thing. When a neurotypical person is ‘passionate’ about something it is a positive thing. You get the idea.
  4. ALWAYS do things with the child NOT to the child. This includes goal setting for IEP’s, accommodations for excursions, specialist classes etc. If they can’t tell you ask them to draw you a picture of what it would look like it they felt safe and could join in. You will be amazed what a picture can tell you.
  5. Provide visuals for everything! You don’t make picture cards and charts for everything just draw! I use stick figures and simple drawing whenever I’m talking with Autistic learners. They won’t want to look at your face so give them something else to look at which supports effective communication. Have your whiteboard handy, draw and write as you talk. This supports all learners not just the Autistic learner. Keep it simple. For example, on the mat before sending the class off to an activity write/draw the steps on the whiteboard. It’s simple and doesn’t use up addition time as you would be having this conversation anyway.
  6. Cover student desks in clear contact. This is an add on to the whiteboard idea. Being able to write on student desks with a whiteboard marker means you can provide simple visual supports by simply having a whiteboard marker in your pocket. Just be sure to explain that it’s ok to write on the desk! Rules are rules!
  7. Sensory challenges. Talk to your student about the physical environment of the classroom. Are they comfortable? They may not be able to tell you but I can guarantee their parents will be able to! Listen to what parents are saying. Our goal is for students to engage in learning. If there are obvious things which are going to be distracting, ask yourself – is it reasonable to remove this for the child? Imagine sitting all day in a pair of jeans one size too small for example – would you be able to concentrate? Sensory includes, lights, textures of seats and carpet, smells – do you wear perfume? If you have ever suffered from morning sickness, sensory issues aren’t much different. It is my least favourite Autistic challenge I deal with daily. Perfume would be at the top of my list of things which are ‘disabling’ for me!
  8. Inclusion and the law. if you haven’t already, complete the online training offered by Canberra University online. Know your responsibilities under the Disability Standards for Education and the Disability Discrimination Act. It is so much more than writing at IEP! Knowledge is power. So many teachers I talk with are worried they aren’t doing enough or getting it right. This training will both empower you and put your mind at ease. Peace of mind!
  9. IEP – ‘in collaboration with all stakeholders’. Know who the stake holders are. Have a page in the student profile file with all stakeholders clearly listed with their contact details. Include the child! If your profile document is thorough your IEP can be the working document it was intended to be. Smart goals, short timeframe and achievable!
  10. Confidentiality – this should probably be at the top of the list. Be clear about how you will communicate with all stakeholders and ensure it is inline with the school policy. Email is best in my opinion. Avoid chats at the door! Encourage parents to make an appointment with you, have a time limit and document. Finish every meeting wth ‘agreed actions’ so everyone is on the same page.
  11. The three R’s – I use this for everything. Three simple questions – Is it my/their right? Is it reasonable? Is it respectful?

I could keep going but for now that’s a start! I will upload the documents I’ve referred to for the Student Profile Document and all the other links are in the resource section of my website jonellefraser.com

Best wishes for a smooth start for 2019!


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