Inclusion with a specific focus on Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC)
This webpage will act as resource for PGCE students and NQT’s and provide suggestions for creating an inclusive classroom environment for pupils with Special Educational Needs and/or disability (SEND), focussing specifically on children with Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC).
Since 1993 (The Education Act, Section 160) it has been Government policy that children with SEND should be taught in mainstream schools. SEND is one of the key priority areas identified by the Government. This is not surprising when you consider that 1 in 5 children in England has SEND, ranging from dyslexia to a physical impairment (DfE, 2014).
What is inclusion?
Inclusion is valuing all students equally; developing a sense of community and belonging and an acceptance of each other’s differences. Inclusive schools and local education authorities have:
a. an inclusive ethos;
b. a broad and balanced curriculum for all pupils;
c. systems for early identification of barriers to learning and participation; and
d. high expectations and suitable targets for all children (Dfe, 2001, p.3).
ASC is a developmental condition that affects the way a person communicates with and relates to other people. It is usually first noticed during childhood and affects about 1 – 1.5% of children (Baron-Cohen et al, 2009) with boys at least three times as likely to have the condition as girls (Nicholas et al, 2008). For a child to be given a diagnosis of ASC they have to have difficulties in the following three areas:
Social communication –the understanding and use of non-verbal and verbal communication.
Social interaction – making and maintaining friendships
Social imagination – predicting what others will do and say and understanding the intentions behind people’s actions. (Al-Ghani, 2011).
Difficulties in these three areas are often referred to as ‘the triad of impairment’ after Dr Lorna Wing who described the three key ‘impairments’ shared by all children who have an autism spectrum condition (Wing and Gould, 1979). A number of health professionals are involved in the diagnosis, such as a paediatrician and a clinical psychologist. Information is also sought from the school and parents. As the word spectrum implies, no two children with ASC are the same. One child on the autism spectrum may have no spoken language and very little interest in other people; another child within the spectrum may have well-developed language and be keen to make friends, but struggles to do so effectively (Todd, 2013).
The cause of ASC is still unknown although there is very strong evidence of a genetic rather than an environmental cause. If one identical twin has autism, there is a 60-90% chance that their twin will also have the condition. Compare this to non-identical twins or siblings, where if one has autism the other sibling has a 5-10% chance of meeting the criteria for diagnosis (Todd, 2013, p.9).
ASC is a lifelong condition; children with autism grow up to be adults with autism. However, with appropriate support and education, development and learning does occur. If an ASC diagnosis is given, there can also be associated learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, and ADHD.
Support in School
The child’s class teacher and teaching assistant will provide most of the day to day support. The school’s Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) will advise the teacher and also seek help from other specialists. These may include an Educational Phycologist, Speech and Language Therapist (SLT), Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist, and the Social Communication Team (SCT). The occupational therapist may suggest the use of equipment such as a writing slope, ‘sit n move’ cushion or pens with special grips.
Challenges faced -by and strategies to support ASC children
There are numerous challenges that children with ASC have to deal with on a daily basis. Thankfully, there are many strategies that can be used by teachers and support staff to support these children and make the curriculum more ‘user friendly’. Some of the difficulties and support strategies are discussed below:
Anxiety – To reduce anxiety levels, make sure the child has access to a visual timetable helping them to prepare for changes throughout the day and understand what is coming next (Seach, 2001). Children with ASC love structure and routine.
A visual timetable for KS2
The use of the same colour for a subject makes it easier to use, read and remember. Visual timetables can support the development of organisational skills.
Difficulty sequencing instructions – Use straightforward language especially when giving explanations and instructions. Also insure all instructions are given in the order in which they are to be completed. Instead of staying, “Before you get your reading book, remember to put your name on your work when you have finished it,” a better alternative would be, “when you have finished, put your name on your work, then get your reading book.” (Beaney and Kershaw, 2009, p.7).
Challenging behaviour – Children with ASC can display ‘active’ behaviours (tantrums, biting, pushing, hitting) and ‘passive’ behaviours (unmotivated, waits for prompts, seems lazy). It is important to understand why these behaviours occur; usually it is a perceived injustice. Use the STAR approach (Settings, Triggers, Actions and Results) to further analyse the behaviour and then develop strategies to address the behaviour. The following booklet has been produced by Great Ormond Street Hospital and is a useful guide in understanding and managing behaviour problems of children with ASC.
Comic Strip cartoons and Social Stories were developed by Carol Gray who defines social understanding as an understanding of the underlying, hidden messages that underpin social interaction – ‘a hidden code’ (Gray and White, 2002). Their aim is to help increase the child’s understanding of a social rule/expectation which may lead to a change in their behaviour; they help identify the gap of knowledge. Comic strip conversations help unpick the child’s perspective on a situation and help them to begin to understand that others may have a different view. They can also offer alternative responses to a situation which the child has found difficult should it re-occur in the future.
A Social Story is a brief factual description of a social situation written with the child to aid understanding of social situations. The National Autistic Society website provides advice on how to write comic strips and social stories.
Easily distracted – Children with ASC often have difficulty channelling their attention and are easily distracted. Ensure the child sits near the front of the class, close to the interactive whiteboard, so they can be refocused by the teacher or teaching assistant as required. Have an individual workstation in a quiet area of the classroom where the child can chose to work if they wish. This area should be clutter-free, to minimise distraction and encourage concentration.
Organisational difficulties – Children with ASC often struggle to organise themselves and their belongings .To encourage independence provide the child with a visual tick list. The child can tick off each step when completed. For example, what do I pack in my school bag at the end of the day? or what equipment will I need to complete this activity?
Poor gross and fine motor skills – Most schools in West Sussex run Jump Ahead, a structured programme of games and activities designed to improve motor skills. It aims to improve balance (vestibular sense) and proprioception (body awareness).
Reluctance to write – It is common for ASC children to be reluctant to write. Writing not only requires good fine motor control and hand-eye coordination but also the ability to retrieve ideas and memories. Written work can be supported by supplying word banks, subject maps or communicate in print resources as shown below:
Communicate in print
Breaking tasks down into smaller more achievable steps will help. With regard to written work, a green sticker could provide a visual prompt from where to start writing and a red sticker where to finish. The child could also be provided with an example of what the finished piece of work should look like, so they know when they have completed the task.
When an extended piece of writing is attempted, such as a ‘big write’, the child could type their work onto a laptop. There are also software packages such as Clicker 6, produced by Crick, that are commercially available to schools/parents. Clicker is a child friendly writing tool that enables children of all abilities to significantly develop their literacy skills. For older children there are speech recognition software programmes such as Dragon which would allow children to dictate their work and it be transcribed as text.
Slow processing speed – Allow additional time for the child to process verbal information and instruction (at least 10 seconds) and avoid repeating verbally within this time. If repetition of the information/instruction is necessary use exactly the same wording as initially used in order that the child doesn’t interpret the repetition as something ‘new’.
Making your classroom more inclusive
• Use the child’s name when delivering any instructions so that they know the instructions apply to them.
• Use explicit, concise language when addressing the child as this is likely to enable them to process the information correctly. Ensure all praise is explicit so that they know exactly what element of their work or behaviour they should repeat next time. In the same way if the child is being corrected about something ensure that they know explicitly what they have done wrong. Introduce a reward system that is personally motivating to the child such as a sticker chart or talk tokens.
• Be aware of sensory sensitivities. Children can have a heightened (hypersensitive) or reduced (hyposensitive) sense of smell, touch, taste, seeing and hearing. The resource, fun activities for pupils with sensory processing difficulties, has been developed by the Social Inclusion Team in West Sussex to help teachers identify a child’s individual sensory needs and modify the classroom as required. You can reach this document from the following link.
The aim is to remove potential barriers to learning and make the curriculum accessible. On completion of the sensory audit, appropriate sensory breaks can be incorporated into the school day. Alternatively the whole class could try Brain Gym exercises. These activities exercise the mind, get blood and oxygen flowing to the brain and promote learning.
• Provide plenty of opportunities for appropriate paired work with a good role model. The peer can provide support and act as a positive role model in social situations or during lessons. An informal ‘buddy’ system can be used where one or two children could watch out for the child around school (Beaney and Kershaw, 2009).This would be particularly effective during break and lunchtimes which are difficult for children with ASC, due to the unpredictable and noisy environment of the lunch hall and playground.
• Supporting transitions, between years and between schools is essential. SEND kids benefit from extra visits to their new classrooms (when they are empty so they can familiarise themselves with the layout, the different furniture). A book with photographs could be made so parents can share with their child during the summer holidays. My new teacher is Mrs Bendell and I will be in Turtle class etc.
Qualities of children with ASC
Children with ASC are a real asset to your classroom. They can be creative, have an in depth knowledge of a chosen subject, have an excellent long term memory and are honest. What you see is what you get! They stick to the rules, have a keen sense of justice, are loyal, usually not materialistic, and are never knowingly unkind.
The following video clip is a Newsround Special documentary ‘My autism and me’ and was made by Rosie. She has autism and her film gives a first-hand account of what it is like to live with autism and how it makes her special.
Recent changes in SEND Policy
A new bill was brought before parliament in March 2013; in March 2014 this bill was approved and became the Children and Families Act 2014. The changes in SEND provision came into effect from the 1st September 2014 and represent the biggest shake up in SEND support for more than a generation. The categories of school action and school action plus have been scrapped; there is now one category of SEN support. Individual Education Plans (IEPs) have been replaced with Attainment Record Cards (ARCs). Statements of SEND are being converted into Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs), which run from birth to twenty five years of age, and are therefore much more holistic in nature. A useful summary is provided in the following document by NASEN (formerly National Association for Special Educational Needs) is the UK’s leading professional, membership association for all those who work with and care for children and young people with special or additional educational needs).
Al-Ghani, K. I. (2011) Learning about Friendship; stories to support social skills training in children with Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Baron-Cohen, S., Scott, F., Williams, J., Bolton, P., Matthews, F. E., and Brayne, C. (2009) “Prevalence of Autism-Spectrum Conditions: UK School-Based Population Study”, British Journal of Psychiatry, 194, pp.500-509.
Beaney, J. and Kershaw, P. (2009) Inclusion in the Primary Classroom: support materials for children with autistic spectrum disorders, The National Autistic Society.
Department for Education (2001) Inclusive Schooling, Children with Special Educational Needs. [online]. Available:
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/283623/inclusive_schooling_children_with_special_educational_needs.pdf [Accessed 22nd November 2014].
Department for Education (2013) Children with Special Educational needs 2014: An analysis. [online]. Available: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/350129/SFR31_2014.pdf [Accessed 22nd November 2014]. Gray, D. and White, A. L. (2002) My Social Stories Book, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Nicholas, J. S., Charles, J. M., Carpenter, L., King, L. B., Jenner, W., and Spratt, E. G. (2008) “Prevalence and Characteristics of Children with Autism-Spectrum Disorders”, Annals of Epidemiology, 18(2), pp.130-136.
Seach, D. (2001) Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Positive Approaches for Teaching Children with ASD, A Nasen Publication.
Todd, S. (2013) The Little Book of the Autism Spectrum. Independent Thinking Press.
Wing, L. and Gould, L. (1979) “Severe Impairments of Social Interaction and Associated Abnormalities in Children: Epidemiology and Classification”, Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia, 9, pp.11-29.