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Note: A special thank you to everyone who is taking part in my blogs this week!
On 1 October 2010, the Equality Act 2010 replaced all existing equality legislation such as the Race Relations Act, Disability Discrimination Act and Sex Discrimination Act. As far as schools are concerned, for the most part, the effect of the current law is the same as it has been in the past – meaning that schools cannot unlawfully discriminate against pupils because of their sex, race, disability, religion or belief or sexual orientation. – UK Government Website
But recently, it has come to my attention, quite vividly that not every school listens to the Equality Act. Or at least tries to get around it in some way. Now, my school experience was okay. Until I was 11, I only really suffered with Asthma. Of course, I got infections after infections, but they never really hindered me as much as they do now. During high school it wasn’t that bad either, unless I wasn’t aware of it. There was one year where my anxiety was super high, and it wasn’t understood. I got dumped into a counsellor’s room once a week, but other than that, I was never hindered. College life WELL that was different. I was an adult surrounded by adults who never wanted to give me benefits or help me. I had to help myself. I wrote my own emails to teachers asking them to stop the way they acted with me. I wrote blog posts. I fought to have respect for my illnesses.
“One charity said it was “very worrying” that recorded exclusions for these children were rising, as it warned it was concerned pupils were also being excluded from lessons unofficially. The data showed that in the 2015/16 academic year, children recognised as having autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), were given fixed term exclusions on 9,040 occasions.” – Independent Newspaper, 2017
But now, there are children everyday suffering, because a teacher doesn’t understand. They see their “behaviour” as just being naughty, when really, they are on the pathway. And even without diagnosis, are still protected by The Equality Act. One SEN has said “do not use the word behaviour. Behaviour means they know the way they are acting. But what we say is they are trying to portray how they feel and perceiving things.” So when a child may disrupt a lesson, he or she is trying to tell you something is wrong. It isn’t conveyed in the right way because of norms. But you see, norms should never be applied. Especially if you are aware of their situation.
“More than 1 in 100 children are on the autism spectrum, and more than 70 per cent go to mainstream schools. So every teacher will have autistic students in their classes at some point in their careers. It’s vital that they understand autism and know how to support all the children in their class.” – National Autism Society
This then creates turmoil for not only the teachers, but the child. The child is then labelled with a self fulfilling prophecy, in which they give themselves this “naughty” label. Does it stop their “behaviour”? No! Because even though they may tell themselves to try and stop what the teacher is telling them to, at the moment in time, their actions are not defined by free will action, but by their brain sending alarms telling them to do so. And to not understand that, is disgusting.
So what can teachers or educational establishments do, to help someone like this?
1. Differentiated Timetables.
Although I am not on the spectrum, or suffer with learning disabilities, every child has a specific way they prefer to learn. I for one, preferred kinesthetic learning, with a mix of audio and visual. Meaning, I preferred learning by doing. But I also learnt via listening and note taking. Reading and note taking was never my mind, it would make me very bored while in school, and being in such a quiet environment would irk me. So imagine being a child on the pathway, and not in your ideal learning environment? Or having the same learning environment in every lesson? It is going to get boring! Differentiated timetables means each lesson has a different experience.
If we think about it logically, in most schools there are 5 lessons in the day. Most with 3 in the morning, and 2 in the afternoon. So, statistically, a child has the most of their attention span in the morning. So anything involving movement, should be more towards the afternoon. So maybe start the morning with the visual learning. Remember, although they’re ready to work, they have just woke up, so they may still need time to adjust. Further on through the day add a variety of different learning experiences. This helps support all children, but for those who you may have “issues” with fidgeting, standing up or disrupting a lesson…they’re now comfortable, and maybe you can sit and read a book on the ASD pathway while they’re happy to understand.
2. Encouraging/Providing Inclusion Teacher training
This is what I’m hoping to do, and I truly believe every school should invest in inclusion teachers. When I was in high school, we had 3 inclusion teachers we would see round school. I truly believe the SEN was amazing, and seeing the way they worked with students was amazing. On average, a school gets £7000 per student a year, and on top of that they can apply for higher needs funding. Should this or should it not go on the hiring and/or training for SEN and Inclusion training courses/teachers?
A child on the ASD pathway may benefit from a smaller work group, which an inclusion teacher could take up. Or just to have the one person who understands them around in case they need them?
3. Awareness Events/Groups
In my local area, there are plenty of events or support groups surrounding ASD, and anyone is welcome to tag along to them. Maybe adding some advertising in schools/inviting teachers would be sufficient. Or maybe, if a teacher is reading this; ask your department head if it’s possible to host an event in your school? These events are typically ran by charities or experts who can provide any answers to any questions. This also shows your drive to learn and help your students.
“Almost straight after my initial training I started teaching an autistic student, but I hadn’t been given the knowledge of autism or tools of the trade I needed to understand and help him learn. No doubt many other colleagues feel the same. To this day I still reflect upon that student with a great sense of guilt, convinced that I did him a disservice through ignorance.” – Siobhan Barnnett
4. Find your battles.
There are going to be times where you find that you yourself can’t cope with the classroom environment. Normal children can show “annoying” behaviours, which many not realise could be an ASD trait (sad to say.) But there are times you need to leave some wiggle room. Maybe encourage the conversation, and ask what they’re discussing, and include the rest of the class. Most children with things like PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance) or Aspergers, thrive off feeling included, and not singled out. No child wants to feel so different and isolated from their peers, so get their peers involved in a discussion they would enjoy too. It may be that one of your ASD students enjoys dinosaurs. Maybe try and find some worksheets that have dinosaurs involved, which encourages learning in a style they can enjoy, or get dinosaurs involved in your class discussion somehow.
Are you on the ASD pathway/spectrum? Or have a child who is? What has been your experience with the school? Or have you got any tips for anyone struggling? Leave them in the comments below!