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.

How Teachers and TAs can help Students with Asperger Syndrome access the curriculum in inclusive classrooms

By Gill D. Ansell, author of Working with Asperger Syndrome in the Classroom: An Insider’s Guide

Being a Teaching Assistant is not what it once was. Years ago we were volunteers who went in to help teachers, prepared the paints for the art session, sorted the aprons out so each child had one, and listened to the children read, amongst other things. Nowadays, it is a job that requires a greater knowledge of the National Curriculum, of child development and of children with special needs. Nowadays, TA’s are trained and qualified and paid for the role they do (although some not enough!).

It is understandable that some TA’s prefer to work with the ‘neuro-typical’ children, and some with the gifted and talented, but neither of these groups appealed to me because I always felt they were going to achieve anyway, without my help. However, the children I got most satisfaction and enjoyment from helping were those with Asperger Syndrome. The way they view the world is refreshing and logical, and easily understood – when we take the time to understand it. Yet, in order for them to access the National Curriculum they often need a translator.

Take this scenario for example; The teacher is stood at the front of the class, teaching the class of 30+ junior aged children about rivers. Most of the children are looking at the teacher. Two children are messing about, with a rubber and rolling it across the table to each other while the teacher isn’t looking. The child with AS is trying to listen but has lost interest after the first few sentences, partly due to the fact there are no visual clues to what she is talking about, partly due to the two children playing with the rubber and partly due to worrying about having to do PE that afternoon and whether or not they are going to get into trouble again for not getting changed quickly enough and being the last one picked to be in someone’s team as usually happens.

The teacher finishes talking about rivers and sets the children to their task. All the children, including the two playing with the rubber, get up and set about getting their books and atlases and returning to their seats. The child with AS remains seated. I ask the child ‘Do you know what you have to do?’ ‘Yes,’ comes the reply ‘I have to get my exercise book, some coloured pencils, an atlas and a question sheet and complete questions 1 to 3 before going to break.’ Now, to most people it would seem this child knows exactly what they have to do. They would be wrong. I then ask, ‘What does that mean?’ to which the reply comes: ‘I don’t know.’

Just because a child with AS is verbally clever does not mean that they understand everything that they say or hear. This child was able to repeat verbatim what they had heard, even though they had been distracted, yet had no idea how to break it down in order to make sense of it. That’s where a good TA or teacher steps in and breaks it down for them: ‘First go to your tray and get your grey geography book.’ Once they have done that, ‘Now, get a question sheet from the teacher’s desk and a pot of crayons, also on the teacher’s desk and come back to your seat.’ Once the child independently gets what they need, explain the first task to the child, and allow them to do it before explaining the next task.

If this scenario seems far-fetched or overly prescriptive, imagine this: I’m stood in front of you explaining all about my favourite fruit cake and how to make it and the ingredients and utensils you will need to complete this task, and then tell you to get on with making it before you can go on for your coffee break. I haven’t given you any visual clues, only verbal ones, but I’m expecting you to have taken all that information in and for you to complete the process of making this lovely fruit cake. How would that make you feel? Can you remember the order everything has to go in? Can you find out where all the utensils are kept? Can you remember all the ingredients and the order in which to mix them? Probably not. You may be able to remember some, but was it exactly as I had told you to do it? And if not, who is in the wrong? You for not completing my instructions to the letter, or me for not teaching you in a way you can learn?

Most often, children with AS are capable of doing the tasks when presented in a way they understand but unfortunately, some teachers and TA’s are still making the assumption that the child with AS understands because they have good language skills. Maybe some do, but we must take responsibility for checking their understanding, just to be sure. Translating in this way costs nothing.

If a teacher’s job is to teach, and a TA’s job is to assist that teaching, then they need to be able to teach and assist in a way the child understands, and bear in mind differentiation; Every Child Matters, their school’s mission statement; and that every child has a right to be different.

As someone once said, ‘if a child doesn’t learn the way you teach, teach the way the child learns’.

Gill D. Ansell has over 14 years’ experience of ASDs, and previously worked as a teaching assistant, both at schools for children with Autism and Asperger Syndrome, and in a mainstream primary school.

Read Gill’s article:  ‘How Educators Can Help Students with Asperger Syndrome Relieve Anxieties at School (and Avoid Meltdowns at Home!)’ 

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.

How Educators Can Help Students with Asperger Syndrome Relieve Anxieties at School (and Avoid Meltdowns at Home!)

By Gill D. Ansell, author of Working with Asperger Syndrome in the Classroom: An Insider’s Guide.

Often, a child with Asperger Syndrome (AS) will seem to be coping at school because they are academically able, but when the child returns home they let their anxieties out in an often aggressive and disruptive way.

Having spent a lot of time talking with parents over the last year, and having worked in mainstream and specialist provisions for children with AS, I understand from both sides how difficult this problem can be to rectify – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be rectified because it most certainly can, and at no monetary expense to the school.

I firmly believe it can be alleviated by home and school working together. School staff should be listening to parents concerns about this problem and finding a way to help the child with AS at school, giving them a chance to talk to someone about how their anxieties affect them at school, not only in class but at transition times and break and lunchtimes too. The sensory factors that can affect a child with AS are often not recognised but these things can impact greatly on a child if they are not addressed with simple strategies. Imagine if you had to cope with the following all day, every day that you were at work as a teacher or TA and think about how you would feel when you got home:

* None of your peers wants to talk to you even though you’d like them to be friends.

* Some of your peers seem nice but as you don’t understand body language and facial expressions you’re not sure. Previous experience of bullying has made you cautious.

* Some people call you names discreetly in the corridor but if you tell someone in authority they think you’re over-reacting.

* People are touching you when you walk down the corridor when lessons change; sometimes it hurts and you don’t know if they are doing that deliberately or whether it’s because so many people are ion the same place at once. The same happens in assembly when you sit in the middle of a row of children. It confuses you.

* The lights in class seem very bright and give you a headache which makes it hard for you to concentrate.

* The noise in class is very loud and you can’t filter out the talking you should be listening to and the talking that you shouldn’t be listening to. This makes it difficult to understand what you have to do.

* People do a lot of talking and explaining of things but you have a problem with language and only ever hear the first part so are never quite sure if you’ve understood.

* In lessons you want to ask for help as you are not sure you’ve understood, but everyone else seems to understand and you don’t want to look stupid so you muddle through, hoping you’ll get it right.

* At breaks and lunchtimes you are on your own while everyone else seems to be having fun and chatting with friends – you want to join in but don’t know how because you know you are a bit different from everyone else and don’t understand how to interact or play the games they play. Previous experience has taught you that others think you are too rough or rude. You come to really loathe these unstructured and lonely times and you feel like you are useless.

* Everyone around you is talking about a party someone is having at the weekend which they all seem to be invited to. You haven’t been invited, again, and wonder what you ever did to be left out of everything all the time.

* At lunchtime you can’t bear the smells of certain foods and it makes you feel physically sick, but you’re made to sit there, even though people know you don’t like the noise, lighting, smells and have nobody to talk to.

If I had to endure that, day in day out, every time I went to work it would start to wear down my self esteem, and I think I would probably be fit to explode and rant at someone as soon as I got home each day. I wouldn’t want to explode at work – others might see that as a weakness so I would probably wait until I got home, where people accept me for who I am and where I feel safe.

School staff can help children with AS by understanding how the above affects not just the child but the whole family and by doing little things to help that child in school. Things like allowing a child time each day to offload their concerns to a staff member (this costs the school nothing); discreetly checking they have understood the work; giving them more visual cues (other children will also benefit from these so doing it for the whole class does not single the student with AS out); in assembly sitting the child with AS at the end of a row giving them more room and the chance to leave discreetly if required; limiting the class chatter whilst work is being done, and allowing those children who want to work quietly to perhaps work together at the same table; teaching friendship skills in citizenship or circle time and also discussing bullying and the impact it can have on someone’s life long term; allowing the child to take time-out if they become anxious (perhaps they need to just run around the playground for a few minutes to lower their anxieties before returning to class); but most importantly seeing the child as a child first, and as a child with AS second.

And finally, ask yourself this question; if this was your child, would you be happy with their anxieties building up each day to such an extent that they had to explode each time they got home? If your answer is yes, then you’re in the wrong job!

Gill D. Ansell has over 14 years’ experience of ASDs, and previously worked as a teaching assistant, both at schools for children with Autism and Asperger Syndrome, and in a mainstream primary school.

Read an interview with Gill D. Ansell about her book Working with Asperger Syndrome in the Classroom!

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.

Kay and Haitham Al-Ghani on ‘Learning About Friendship’ – Stories to support social skills training for children with ASD in the classroom

They made quite a splash with their children’s book, The Red Beast.

Now, special educational needs teacher Kay Al-Ghani  has published a new book called Learning About Friendship: Stories to Support Social Skills Training in Children with Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism, featuring beautiful illustrations by her son Haitham Al-Ghani. Here, Kay and Haitham answer some questions about the new book.

Tell us about yourself and your experience with children with ASD.

I have been a teacher for over 37 years; many of them spent working with children with Special Needs. Over these years, I have come to believe that most of the difficulties encountered are a result of a teaching deficit rather than a learning deficit. Working with children who find school life a struggle has been inspirational for me and I have made it my quest to find ways to help them to learn and to grow in confidence. Whilst at times it has been challenging, it is always great fun.

Haitham, my son and the illustrator of this book, is the reason I now specialise in teaching children with ASD. He is 25 years old, but back when he was just starting school it was very unusual to see children with Autism in a mainstream classroom. The difficulties he faced were enormous and resulted in him being expelled from his very first school at the tender age of just 3 years. It would be another three years before we got a diagnosis of Autism but even then it was termed ‘Semantic Pragmatic Disorder’, since the idea of it being a spectrum disorder had not been voiced. Once I knew what the problem was I set about trying to find ‘a cure’. I negotiated with his primary school to withdraw him from some lessons in order to work on his language and social skills. It was not too long before I was asked to work with other children and this is the reason that today I am part of an inclusion team that trains parents and professionals in aspects of Autism and which supports children with ASD in mainstream schools.

Why did you decide to write this book and where did the stories come from?

I am an avid reader of anything to do with Autism and I have noticed that there are very few children’s storybooks written from the perspective of a child with ASD.

As a class teacher in a special school, I always had to invent stories to help me to explain social and behaviour rules to the children. I used circle times to teach social skills like taking turns and personal space. I found that the children just loved a good story and they could often relate the main idea in the story to themselves. Before Haitham began to illustrate my stories, I would use puppets and toys to keep the children’s attention. One small boy in my class was having great trouble going on school outings because he would not wear a seat belt. The bus driver came to tell me that he would not be allowed to go on any more trips. I thought this was rather harsh and so the very next day I told my class a story about Tedrick the teddy who would not wear a seat belt. After hearing the story we talked about how important it was to wear a seat belt. We role-played the parts of the driver, the teachers and the other children on the bus. I emphasised how happy the driver was when all the children wore their seat belts and I asked the boy in question if he would mind taking Tedrick on the next trip. Guess what, that boy was the first one on the bus doing up his own and Tedrick’s seat belt!

That story was the first of many I wrote to teach social or behaviour related skills. However, the first illustrated one was The Red Beast which Haitham did for me many years ago in simple pencil crayon. The children I worked with loved this story and it was definitely the illustrations that brought it to life.

Working with children with ASD I noticed that similar problems with social understanding arose time and time again and so I continued to use the story format. When compiling a selection for the book, Haitham persuaded me that children with ASD would probably enjoy black and white drawings better than colour.

What are the most difficult social skills to teach to children with ASD? How do stories help?

The difficulties with social interaction means these children may not understand about body language and so the idea of personal space is often difficult to teach. Since it affects different people in different ways it is an ideal concept to teach to all children. This way the child with ASD learns what is appropriate but, more importantly, other children learn about how this inability to understand body language may affect the child with ASD in their classroom. Other areas of difficulty can be linked to the inability to understand social expectations, so turn taking, interrupting, making inappropriate comments, winning and losing, etc. are also difficult to teach. Quite often if you try to instruct a child with Autism on what is appropriate, they feel threatened or simply fail to understand. Children with Asperger Syndrome hate criticism and so by depersonalising an issue it is easier to talk about an area of difficulty and to teach, through the story format and by role-play, how to remedy a particular problem.

How do you use these stories in the classroom?

These stories can be use during Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education, circle time or in small groups to introduce a particular social skill, for example, winning and losing. Children can learn that whilst they may lose a game of chance, they can always win at the friendship game by being kind and generous in defeat. The teacher may then have an afternoon of board games when all the children are encouraged to play magnanimously and prizes are given for being a good sport. Before reading the story “Golden Hour”, the teacher could begin the session by using role-play to demonstrate an inappropriate response when losing a game. I have had children in fits of laughter by pretending to throw a wobbly after losing a game of ‘Heads or Tails’.

Ultimately the stories are fun and children always learn best when they are having fun!

Anti-Bullying Week takes place this month. How might teachers use these stories in class to address bullying?

Pupils with ASDs are among those at greatest risk of being bullied. The National Autistic Society has calculated that 40% of children with Autism and 60% of children with Asperger Syndrome are bullied at school. It is easy to see how having an ASD may make you a target for bullies. Children with ASD are often solitary at playtimes and have few friends willing to come to their defence. They are seen as gullible, naïve, and easily provoked. They don’t have the ‘cool gene’ and so are unpopular. They often lack tact and diplomacy and they may unquestioningly carry out something a bully has asked them to do because they are unable to figure out motives or predict what might happen next.

Three of the stories in the book hit on the problem of bullying – ‘Timothy Tattletale’, ‘The Barbie Club’ and (more subtly) ‘Ablutions’. If teachers use curriculum time to actively teach about ASD, then they can help to prevent these children from becoming the victims of bullying; be it physical, non-physical (like name calling, taunting, ignoring, etc.), emotional (like spreading rumours, shunning) or the now insidious, cyber bullying.

When children begin to understand about the very much hidden disability that is Autism, the less likely they will be to target children with ASD as victims.

For children with ASD the stories may help them to recognise a bully is not just someone who hits you physically; it may be someone who makes fun of you, spreads rumours about you or uses you.

Schools could use the book as a starting point to train children with high social status to be playground ‘angels’ who could take vulnerable children under their wings to explain things like: rules of playground games, jokes, why they should take turns, etc. Teachers should ensure that they regularly praise children who demonstrate caring behaviour. The stories could be used as a starting point for discussion and for brain storming ideas that will foster a strong sense of justice, provide emotional support for children with ASD and encourage a natural assertiveness in all children, so that they do not feel the need to collude with the bully to protect themselves.

You and Haitham make a great team! What is it like working together?

[Kay:] Haitham makes my work as a writer easy. I am sure every writer of children’s books would love to have an illustrator in the family! If I were honest, my writing without Haitham’s illustrations would probably never get published. He has an excellent eye for detail and needs very little instruction – I simply tell him how many illustrations I would like and he is off. He can work tirelessly on a project until it is finished – and he is a perfectionist. In this book he has produced over one hundred black and white illustrations.

Haitham has become extremely skilful in using Photoshop and as well as our books on Autism with JKP we shall have two children’s picture books coming out next year in the USA.

Writing is a labour of love for me and it is always exciting to see how Haitham will interpret my words in his own inimitable style.

[Haitham:] I really love my mother’s stories, I find them very funny and I can see lots of my old behaviours in the Learning about Friendship book. My mother always lets me choose the names of the characters in the story, so I get a good picture in my head of how I want them to look. I think I am lucky to be able to work at home doing the thing I love most – illustrating. Seeing my work in an actual book is just amazing and I feel quite proud. I hope the stories will help children with Autism, but I think all children will enjoy them.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.

Working with Asperger Syndrome in the Classroom – An Interview with former Teaching Assistant and JKP author, Gill D. Ansell

Gill D. Ansell has over 14 years’ experience of ASDs, and previously worked as a teaching assistant, both at schools for children with Autism and Asperger Syndrome, and in a mainstream primary school.

Here, she answers some questions about her new book, Working with Asperger Syndrome in the Classroom: An Insider’s Guide.

Tell us about you, your background and your role in the day-to-day life of students with ASD in mainstream education.

I started working in pre-schools when my own children were young and got the most satisfaction working with the children with challenging behaviours. However, it wasn’t until I moved back to Hampshire (UK) and worked in another pre-school that I worked with a child on the autism spectrum who also exhibited challenging behaviours. Finding it an interesting condition, I visited a local school which was autism specific and, soon afterwards, started working there as a Special Support Assistant and within months transferred to a school which was Asperger Syndrome specific. I spent five years there and got a good understanding of the condition and how students with it can be affected before moving to a mainstream school working as a Teaching Assistant with children with special needs, including Asperger Syndrome (AS).

I wrote this book because I realised that over the years I had accumulated a lot of knowledge about working with students with AS and wanted to share what I had learned. It was also because I realised that, although there are many books out there with vast amounts of valuable information in about AS, there were limited books that were written in simple English which could be accessed and read quickly. I know that many teachers and TA’s do not have the time to read lengthy non-fiction books with technical jargon in – I get so frustrated when I start to read a book and need a dictionary next to me to translate as I go along. It doesn’t flow and I find it harder to digest what I’m reading. Therefore, I wanted to produce a book that could be read and understood easily and the strategies put into place as soon after reading it as possible. Another reason I wrote the book was because I wanted to show that with a few simple strategies a child with AS has a better chance of accessing mainstream education successfully.

How did your position as a Teaching Assistant enable you to find the most effective strategies for communicating with students with AS?

As a Teaching Assistant (TA) I felt able to work closely with the students with AS; to get to know them as a person; to get to see the world the way they see it and from there develop strategies to help individuals. Sometimes, I tried new strategies which in reality were just ideas I had which I thought could work with a particular individual – that’s why it is important to know the student as an individual.

I’m a firm believer that just because I know a student with AS it doesn’t mean that I know every student with AS. They are all individuals and deserve to be treated as such and what works with one student won’t necessarily work with another. I think what has helped me develop strategies has been that I have changed the schools where I have worked and, as well as doing in-house training, I made sure I went out and did external training and discovered new ideas and methods used by others which I could take back and use in the school I was at, at the time. Personal development is important to me and that’s why I felt it was important to work in different places and do external training – I would never have learnt all that I did if I had stayed in the same place.

Why is consistency in the classroom so important for students with ASD?

It’s important to work as a team, so the child understands that everyone is working together. If you’re not working as a team the child’s anxieties can rise and result in negative behaviours. These negative behaviours could be reduced with staff working together in the best interest of the child. That’s not to say you can’t be an individual because you can and you can also work independently but the fact is, you are still part of a bigger team. Any team not working together will be unlikely to achieve successful results and it will be their own doing. Working in a team means you may have to compromise sometimes, but if you’re all working together for the benefit for the child then it will be worth it. Also, when you’re working as part of a team you can share ideas and continue your own learning, developing ideas together.

Which of the strategies in the book are your favourite or most effective?

I have a couple of favourite strategies which I made up on the spur of the moment. The first one is the ‘Strategy Book’. A child I was working with kept using the ‘f’ word in the playground when he got upset with peers and he really didn’t know any other thing he could do instead. Well, that’s not entirely true – when I asked him what he could do instead he said ‘I could punch him instead!’

So, we found a new exercise book and I explained that we were going to teach him some new strategies which wouldn’t get him into trouble. I drew a cloud shape on a clean page and in the centre of it I wrote ‘Instead of swearing I could …’ then gave 3 things he could do instead. I talked him through the strategies and then we role played them. We would then read through the strategy book each morning, to reinforce his learning. Over several years we built up a bank of strategies for him to use for different problems. Eventually he was able to use the strategies without looking at the book each day.

Another favourite is the ‘Good Book’. Again, it was a spur of the moment idea and was so easy to implement. It would take me only a few minutes at the end of the day to write something positive in the book. If I’d had a particularly bad day with the student, I would ask another staff member if they had noticed something positive the student had done, and there was always something to write in the book. It is such a simple but useful tool, not only for the student but for parents and staff to look at as well.

What advice would you give to teachers and TAs who might be having trouble with a student they suspect is on the autism spectrum?

I’m no longer a TA and now work a lot with parents so I know that they often know their child is different long before the school do. I feel it’s important to work with the family, find out what strategies work at home and try to understand that many children with AS can manage to contain their anxieties at school for a number of reasons, but then when they get home they release these anxieties often in an aggressive and disruptive manner. It is important to understand that this is not down to bad parenting – the child needs to be understood at school and given opportunities to speak, in confidence, with staff about what they are anxious about. Many of these students are academically able and their needs are not always recognised by school staff. Transition times can be traumatic for many of these children, as can breaks and lunchtimes as they are unstructured times.

If staff suspect a child has an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) observation is crucial, not just in lessons but in unstructured times. Learn about ASDs, limit language and check the student’s understanding. If staff can make a diary of behaviours which are giving them cause for concern it can help build a better picture of the child and this could involve speaking with other staff that work with the child, including the dinner staff, maintenance and playground staff views are important. The sooner these children’s needs and difficulties are recognised the sooner the strategies can be put in place and the more chance the child has of learning more positive behaviours before negative behaviours become entrenched. It can also be helpful to have written evidence to support the parent if they take their child for a diagnosis.

Read Gill’s article: ‘How Educators Can Help Students with Asperger Syndrome Relieve Anxieties at School (and Avoid Meltdowns at Home!)’

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.