How to Make School Inclusion a Success for Children with Autism – An Interview with Kay Al-Ghani and Lynda Kenward

K. I. (Kay) Al-Ghani (left) and Lynda Kenward each have more than 30 years experience working in education. Kay is currently a specialist teacher for inclusion support and is involved with training professionals, students and parents in aspects of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Now retired, Lynda’s recent role also as specialist teacher for inclusion support has motivated a particular interest in developing visual resources for children with ASD.

Here, they answers some questions about their new JKP book From Home to School with Autism: How to Make Inclusion a Success.

Tell us about yourself and how this book came about.

Kay: I am a specialist advisory teacher, Autism trainer and Inclusion consultant. Lynda and I worked together for an Inclusion Support Service until her retirement 2 years ago.

We collaborated on our first book Making The Move and noticed that there was a need for transition support materials that would help schools, parents and professionals hoping to place a child with ASD in a mainstream school for the very first time.

Lynda: I have been in Special Education for over thirty years. During my time as a specialist advisory teacher I became very interested in developing visual resources for children with ASD. This interest made me aware of the need for transition support materials. After working with Kay to produce Making the Move for primary/secondary transition, we turned our attention to the pre-school to school placement transition and hence “From Home to School”.

What are the real benefits of implementing these strategies early on for the school and home lives of children with ASD?

When dealing with any potential difficulties in life, early intervention is always best. We see in our work that when a real partnership between home and school exists, the outcomes are always positive. We are often called into school when things start to ‘go wrong’ for the child and so it is our aim, with this book, to ensure things ‘go right’ from the onset. Having similar visual resources both at home and at school makes life less confusing for the child. Children with ASD are anxious about new situations and so preparation for change is always essential.

Many children with Autism are enjoying placement in mainstream schools. However, placement alone, does not always lead to successful inclusion. The pronounced communication and social difficulties shared by these children can be a huge barrier to learning. As well as finding the academic side of school life a struggle, inappropriate behaviour may result in negative opinions from other children in the class. These negative opinions can then follow the child throughout their school life, leading to unhappiness for the child and anxiety for the parents/caregivers. By introducing strategies to aid the child from the very start of school life, we can minimise this risk.

Other children will benefit from a heightened awareness of the needs of children with ASD – which can lead to greater sensitivity and acceptance by neurotypical peers.

Children with Autism need and deserve the chance to be educated with typical children in a mainstream setting.

How do the strategies in your book work in relation to special education provision, or in the absence of it?

The strategies outlined in the book can be easily implemented in any classroom whether the child has a statement of special provision or not. We have seen that they are helpful to all children and we firmly believe that they should become part of normal school practice. Up to now, they are used extensively in most special schools, but with more and more children being included in mainstream, it is essential all classrooms begin to accommodate them.

We have tried hard to ensure the book gives practical help that can be implemented immediately – all you need is a photocopy machine. We were aware of the problem of copyright and Haitham Al-Ghani (Kay’s son and a young man with ASD) has created unique symbols for us to use in the book.

Why is consistency so important, and what are some common challenges in achieving it? How can the book help?

Children with ASD are not good at generalising. They cannot transfer knowledge from one situation to another. Something as simple as having a different symbol to show ‘choosing’ for example, may result in the child being unable to understand what is expected. Not all schools have access to symbol writing programmes or they may be different from those used by early years practitioners. Parents usually have no access at all and are not even aware of the visual symbols they could be using to aid their child’s understanding at home. By using the symbols, visual materials and suggested strategies outlined in the book, it will ensure a consistency of approach, which is very beneficial, as it will help to reduce confusion and anxiety.

The aim of the book is to promote and foster collaboration between the home and the school. This will result in improved generalisation of skills and opportunities to exchange ideas and to decide what methodology works best for the child.

The “Pupil Profile” is a great resource. Can you talk a little about how you developed this and why it’s an important tool?

It is common practise in most special schools to interview the parents concerning the child before they start school, often during a home visit. After all, parents are the experts when it comes to a child with ASD. We often use standardised profiles to highlight any sensory needs and so we decided to take this idea a few steps further in order to build up a complete picture of the child.

One of these profiles came in extremely handy when dealing with a situation at the local swimming pool. A small child with ASD had enjoyed a ‘fun’ swim with his class and was getting ready to return to school. Suddenly the child began to scream uncontrollably. The teacher was able to tell the assistant trying to dress him that he would only put his socks on after he had put on his trousers. Socks were removed pronto, the screaming stopped and peace was restored!

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.

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2 Responses

  1. Disability Training January 20, 2011 / 7:24 pm

    Wonderful article. Thank you for sharing. I wish you all the best in your publishing efforts! (I’m tweeting this article now too)

  2. Paulette Douglas February 7, 2011 / 4:12 pm

    It’s really great to learn of a book that attempts to address the huge issues faced by autistic children in the mainstream educational setting but also advocates for the mainstream to be a viable option. My son is 7yrs old and was recently excluded from school for what was described as a ‘violent episode’. What is really puzzling is the fact that none of the behaviours being presented at school are ever presented at home or in social settings.

    I am now considering moving him to a special school, although I have reservations about this. Like you, I agree that children with autism deserve to participate in mainstream provision, but sometimes sadly this comes with enormous risks i.e. the child being alienated from its peers, ‘labelled’ by teachers and practitioners that don’t understand the condition and people who are just generally ‘impatient’ and have very little time for children.

    I am definitely going to invest in a copy of your book…….I feel I am really going to need it!

    Thanks again.

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