Essentials: Understanding Autism - Insights for Inclusive Classrooms

Essentials: Understanding Autism - Insights for Inclusive Classrooms

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Is your school ready to embrace the diverse world of your autism? To help your autistic pupils thrive and meet their potential in your classroom?

In this Essentials episode, we share the facts every teacher should know about autism and meeting the needs of your neurodiverse students - all condensed into an easy-to-listen to, 10-minute episode!

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Show notes / transcription


It's important to remember that autism is not a single disorder, but it's like a spectrum of closely related disorders with a shared core of symptoms. So everybody on the autism spectrum has problems to some degree with social interaction, empathy, communication and flexible behaviour. But the level of difficulty and the combination of symptoms varies tremendously from person to person.


Welcome to the school behaviour secrets podcast. I'm your host, Simon Currigan. My co host is Emma Shackleton and we're obsessed with helping teachers, school leaders, parents, and of course, students. When classroom behaviour gets in the way of success, we're going to share the tried and tested secrets to classroom management behaviour or special needs whole school strategy and more all with the aim of helping your students reach their true potential. Plus, we'll be letting you eavesdrop on our conversations with thought leaders from around the world. So you'll get to hear the latest evidence based strategies before anyone else. This is the school behaviour secrets podcast. Hi there, Simon Currigan here and welcome to essentials episode 147 of school behaviour secrets. In these mini essentials episodes, we share with you key bite sized pieces of information from previous episodes to enhance your understanding of the students that you interact with every single day. Today, I'm going to share part of a conversation I had with my co host Emma Shackleton, where we give you some key facts about autism. Now before some of you out there listening to this, send us through a Twitter bomb. This conversation was originally recorded quite some time ago. And I know since then, the terminology on autism has shifted by quite a lot. So in the recording, you'll hear us talk about Autistic Spectrum Disorder or people with autism. And we are aware that the language has now moved towards talking about conditions and differences rather than disorders. And we're now using the terminology of autistic people rather than people with autism and so on. And fortunately, we're a small team and we don't have the resources to go back and rerecord podcasts from the past however, the key underlying points are still valid. And as more children are entering our classrooms with a diagnosis, understanding how autism affects students is central to helping them manage their emotions and behaviour and succeed and thrive in school. This episode will go some way to giving you the knowledge you need to support them.


So autism is commonly referred to as ASD, Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Some people prefer the term ASC, so autistic spectrum condition. And it's important to remember that autism is not a single disorder, but it's like a spectrum of closely related disorders with a shared core of symptoms. So everybody on the autism spectrum has problems to some degree with social interaction, empathy, communication, and flexible behaviour. But the level of difficulty and the combination of symptoms varies tremendously from person to person. So if you think of each of those elements as like a dial, the dials for each person are going to be tweaked to a different setting for each individual. So that explains why two people with exactly the same diagnosis will not necessarily demonstrate the same behaviours, the prevalence of autism is thought to be around one to 2% of the population, though diagnosis rates are increasing. And that's why we've decided to focus on autism. And that's a whole other episode,


the cause of autism is not as many people believe it's nothing to do with the MMR injection, please let that belief go. And it's nothing to do with parenting. And it's nothing to do with food or diet, it appears to be genetic. So we inherit the genes for autism from our parents, just as we do for conditions like ADHD, there may also be issues around premature birth, which are worth looking into kids who are born prematurely at around 27 weeks or so are way more likely to go on to develop autism. The diagnosis rates are about one or 2% for the general population. If you're born at 27 weeks or earlier, that number shoots up to about 30%. So as well as autism being caused by genetic factors, we need to look at the impact on that sort of development outside the womb and how the brains are developing. And this could be another big possible cause of autism.


This is then perhaps where some of the confusion arises, because just like with ADHD, or too Same relates to how people's brains are structured. Children and adults who were diagnosed with autism have what's commonly known as a triad of impairment. three key areas of difference of difficulty from a neurotypical person. The first area is social understanding. So that means Miss reading social cues, not being able to interpret social situations, not understanding what they have to do in a particular situation, even when they've been in that situation before, and not understanding how to engage appropriately with others, really tricky for people with autism, because they appear to not be able to read very subtle cues that other people are easily able to read. So they don't understand, for example, when it's their turn in a conversation, or they might find it hard to understand that a conversation has got to flow back and forth, back and forth. Instead, they might prefer to dominate that conversation, they might like to talk about what they want to talk about and have very little awareness of the listener and what they might be hearing. So social understanding is one of those areas, communication can also be affected. So that's receptive language and expressive language. So it's understanding and processing what has been said. And then using appropriate words to communicate what they want to say as well. And processing time is often increased for people with autism. And then in flexibility, this is a really key one, a huge dislike of change, and a real need and desire to have things a certain way. You will often see young children with autism, for example, who very much like to stick to a routine, they like to repeat processes over and over and over again, in their play. For example, rather than interacting with their peers or joining in with what others are doing, they'll often have very favourite activities that they like to return to day after day after day. Interestingly, only a few weeks ago, actually, I observed a boy in a reception class who's got a diagnosis of autism. And every single day, he goes over to a certain shelf, he gets a little basket that's got cubes in their and little basket that's got numbers on a card. And every day, he likes to make little towers of cubes that match the number on the card. And every day, he'll choose the same colour cubes, made the little towers, match them up with the card. And this is almost like soothing for him. He's got other skills, he can do other things. But this is what he likes to revisit time and time again. Now, if that basket wasn't there, if the cubes weren't there, if the cards weren't there, or actually, if somebody came and interrupted that activity, he would get quite distressed, because he likes to have things in the same way, day after day after day.


So that's the triad of impairment, there's sort of three classic key areas of difference. But actually, we can broaden that out into a pentagon of impairment, because there are two more things that you will commonly see in kids with autism. And the first is sensory needs. So that might be hypersensitive to certain senses. It's almost as if your volume for certain senses it has been turned up. So you might hear common classroom sounds really, really loudly, you might interpret them as be the classic joke on their spinal tap, just like the sounds have been turned up to 11. If someone brushes past you in the cloakroom, if you're hypersensitive to it, you might react as if someone's just punched you in the arm. So you're super sensitive to certain senses. But you can also be hypo sensitive, which means you're under sensitive. So you may not have the sensation of your body sinking into a chair and feel the chair underneath you holding you up, you might not have a particularly strong sense of taste. So you can be over or under hyper or hypo sensitive to certain senses. And the other last part of the Pentagon of impairment is theory of mind. And that's essentially empathy. That's been able to put yourself in other people's shoes and see a situation from someone else's point of view. And as a result, you might end up blaming others for things that you've had some responsibility for, and not being able to see your role in a situation. And if you can't take responsibility for what's happened, then often it's very difficult to learn from it and move on.


And the fact is that social interaction is so so complex, and there are so many subtle nuances. And that's what makes it really tricky, isn't it? People with autism just don't read those cues. They don't see those things going on, and they're unable to imagine what it's like to be somebody else. They very much see things entirely from their own perspective. I was


observing a child the other day on the playground, actually, and they were playing a game of football and he dominated the game. And he was grabbing the ball off the other children. All he could see when the other children got upset was they didn't like him. They didn't want him to win. But he couldn't see his part in that he was disrupting the game and taking more turns than the other children


because society requires so much interaction with other people. And because it's so difficult to interpret those reactions from other people, it can be really stressful for people with autism. So they experience a high level of stress and anxiety. And this then is what can lead to meltdowns or refusals, sometimes you'll see autistic children completely shutting down just avoiding eye contact, avoiding interaction not talking, not looking, not moving. Or they might go into that flight response where they will run away or try to get away from the cause of the stress maybe run out of class. Also, you might see controlling behaviours. So trying to boss people around wanting things to be done in a particular way, finding it very difficult when there's a change or something unpredictable happens. And that in flexibility of thinking, so only being able to see things maybe from one perspective their own, not being able to appreciate any other people's perspective, and it feeling stressful and painful to them. It's distressing, because it's so difficult to make sense of.


And after listening to that, if you're thinking about a child in your class, who you're now thinking may be affected by autism, then we've got a download that can help. It's called the SCN D handbook, and it will help you link the behaviours you see in the classroom with possible underlying causes, like autism or ADHD or trauma. It's important to remember that as teachers, we are not qualified to make a diagnosis. But if we can link the behaviours we're seeing in the classroom to possible underlying causes. We can signpost families to get help from professionals and put those crucial early intervention strategies in place. It's a completely free download, go to our website UK. Click on the free resources tab near the top and you will see the Sen D handbook signposted near the top of the page. I'll also put a direct link to the Sen D handbook in the show description so you can open your podcast app and click through directly. And that's all we've got time for on today's essentials episode. If you found today's episode useful, please leave us an honest rating and review on Apple podcasts. This makes a huge difference to us because when you rate and review the podcast it makes it more likely that school behaviour secrets will be recommended to other listeners, and then other teachers and school leaders can find the show and start getting the help that they need to support the children in their classrooms to thank you for listening and I look forward to seeing you next time on school behaviour. See

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)