Autism is a disorder that affects how a person communicates and how they form relationships with other people. Often, people with autism cannot relate easily with other people and the outside world. While some people with autism can cope relatively well with the disorder, others require a significant amount of support with day to day activities, building relationships and understanding emotions.
Excelsior Academy, Newcastle, do a lot to help support children with autism. Most importantly, children with autism are provided with a safe place to go if they feel uncomfortable. Furthermore, the Academy has a tough anti-bullying stance, ensuring that children with autism in particular always feel safe and secure at school. Children with autism are more prone to bullying, mostly because they find it difficult forming and maintaining relationships. Excelsior Academy also listens closely to its staff when they raise concerns about particular students, and often refer children to outside specialists for assessments, help and support. Staff also receive training on how to support children in their classes who have autism.
One thing in particular that the school does is to give children advice on how to make friends, sometimes during counselling sessions. We interviewed a pupil with autism to find out some of the difficulties they face.
“I found it very hard to make friends when I was in another school and people didn’t want to play with me. I was treated differently and was bullied almost every day. Since I’ve started Excelsior Academy, I have been much happier. People have made an effort to talk to me and include them in their friendship groups.”
The school also use a special poster that is used to show feelings and emotions. An autistic child often has difficulty expressing emotion and this allows them to communicate with other people, including pupils and staff. When a child with autism is feeling, for example, frustrated or angry, they can point to an emotion. It can also be used to explain to somebody with autism how they have made somebody feel.
In lessons, teachers might use specific strategies to support children with autism. This might include making instructions easy to understand and being very specific about what is being asked. For example, instead of saying, “Be quiet”, the teacher might say, “Listen and don’t talk while I am talking,” which is much more specific. This is because those with autism take things very literally.
In English, year seven are learning about autism in the play, “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.” We interviewed a few year sevens about what they have learnt about autism and how it has changed their understanding.
We asked Aaron how he thinks children with autism get on in life: “They get on in life normally because they are normal people. There is no difference. But I do think children with autism might be bullied, because they are very precise like Ed in the play. But to be honest, I see no difference, I’d be friends with anyone!” Leon stated that, “They must find it very hard, like my uncle.”
We interviewed a few teachers from Collingwood School in Excelsior Academy, about what they have done to support children with autism. Miss Sealby said,
“Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition which impacts on communication, social interaction and cognitive skills. It is quite a long process for children to be assessed with an autism diagnosis. Usually, it involves a range of different professional agencies including health, key school staff and educational psychologists, to name but a few, who all work with the child and parents. Autism can’t be cured as it is a lifelong development disability but there are many strategies and techniques that can be put in place at home and school that can support a young person with ASD.
Each diagnosis of ASD is unique. What strategies work for one pupil may not necessarily work for another. At Excelsior, we adapt our approach and provide consistent methods to teaching and learning to support pupils with ASD. ”
Miss Kennett said, “I try to keep the atmosphere calm in the class because it helps them to concentrate. If possible, I try to warn them if there is going to be any change in the routine and I pay attention to their needs.”
When asked how she thought children with autism felt, Miss Kennett said,
“There are quite a number of people in Excelsior with this, but it is very mild and they are lucky because they can make friends with each other, finding strength in groups. They feel very strong as a group.”
Finally, she told us,
“Most, nearly all, teachers understand the students well because it is a small school. It’s important that anger outbursts are treated sympathetically, because if you shout at a student with autism it may make them feel worse. Mostly, though, I think we have a lot to teach other schools with our practice here.”
With credit to:
Leon – interviewer
Aaron – vox pops
Chloe – editor
Sammi-Joe, Nikita, Barbora, Leon, Patrik, Roland, Riki, Ethan, Filip