One of the hardest things is knowing that our kids need support but not knowing what they need. Often we know our kids are struggling in school but don’t know what changes or ‘reasonable adjustments’ we should make. Especially when you are new or under assessment for an autism diagnosis.
In this post I am going to highlight some ideas that may work for your child at school or nursery.
What is the Law around providing support in schools?
In England we have a needs based system when it comes to school supports. You do not need a diagnosis of anything to get extra support in school, you just have to demonstrate a need for that support.
The SEN and Disability Code of Practice provides guidance on the duties set out in part 3 of the Children’s and Family’s Act 2014. Local Authorities need to ‘have regard’ to the code of practice and it is essentially a practical manual for what the law says.
A child will be considered as having Special Educational Needs (SEN) if:
- Has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of other’s of the same age, or
- Has a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools
The Equality Act means that reasonable adjustments or reasonable steps should be taken to ensure that disabled pupils are not put at a substantial disadvantage. It also means that schools should not treat disabled pupils less favorably for a reason related to their disability. So it is law that reasonable adjustments should be made, however what those adjustments are is to be determined on a case by case basis.
Requesting Support in School
If your child is struggling in school the person you need to talk to is the school (or pre-school) SENCO – the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator. It is their job to ensure the needs of any child with additional needs at that setting are being met.
The SENCO may just meet with you but they may also like to have a Team Around the Child meeting if there are other professionals working with your child. They may also want to involve your child in deciding how best to meet their needs. Getting SEN support is the first step to providing extra help at school. Sometimes this will be sufficient for a student and other times more support will be needed which may lead to getting an Educational Health and Care Plan.
A common question parents may get from a school is what support do you think your child needs? I know we had this question and I had no idea what to say as I didn’t know what could be provided. Different schools / settings will have different approaches and some things will be much easier and cheaper than others. Having said that most small things can add up to make a big difference when done properly. So below is a list of 21 reasonable adjustments that schools can put in place for autistic students. Remember what will work for one child won’t necessary be right for another but hopefully the list will give you some practical strategies to try.
21 ‘reasonable adjustments’ schools for autistic students?
1. Personal Support
One to One personal support can be from a Learning Support Assistant (LSA), it can be full time or just for a few hours a week. Some children will need support in certain lessons, others may need personal support at lunch time. Another form of support is to have a Teaching Assistant as an extra pair of hands in the class who may support a number of children. Personal support will cost the school money so will likely require clear evidence of need. It can also take time so if you think your child needs this level of support have the conversation with the SENCO as soon as possible.
2. A Safe Space
It is a good idea to have a safe space that is accessible for a child when they become overwhelmed and /or need a calm place. For early years and reception age children this may be a pop up sensory tent that sits in a corner of the classroom. Many schools may have a dedicated ‘quiet room’ or even a ‘sensory room’ that the child can access. In a secondary school this may be that the child has a pass they can use to access the library when they need a break.
3. Visual Aids
I think all schools should be using visual aids, this might be visual schedules, social stories, step by step instructions there are so many possibilities. For young children who struggle with transition now and next boards are very helpful. For an older child reminder checklists on the wall or written instructions act as a visual aid. Often when a child is anxious or struggles with communication they need extra processing time, visual aids provide that along with more certainty around expectations.
This would be a named person your child can regularly check in with. This can be a teacher, tutor, SENCO or a mature student. Essentially it is someone who understands and supports them and can help them deal with situations as they arise.
A buddy is very similar to a mentor but would usually be another student. The buddy may help your child join in games at lunch time or remind them what lesson they need to go to and what to take with them.
6. Peer Support
Some schools will have support groups which may be something like a ‘nurture group’. This is often where neurodiverse children are brought together maybe once a week and will work on certain skills / learning together. It could also be in the form of a club or lunch time support.
7. Sensory Supports
Every child will have different sensory needs but common examples of sensory supports might be headphones for children with noise sensitivity, stress balls or tangle / fiddle toys for children that need to be moving their hands.
8. Relaxing Policies
Some school policies may need relaxing in order to meet the different needs of your child. An example would be a child being allowed to wear a plain t-shirt instead of a school shirt due to their sensory needs around clothing.
9. Early or Late Entry and Exit
For some children entering a classroom / building can be overwhelming with all the noise and hustle and bustle of lots of children at once. Arranging for the child to enter either a classroom or dining hall five minutes before or after the other children can make a big difference for some.
10. Choice of Seat
Some children will be less anxious if they know where they are sitting and are able to sit next to a friend. Equally some children may have sensory needs that determine where they would be better suited in a classroom.
11. Range of Seating Choices
Having a choice of both individual and group work stations in a classroom can be beneficial. Some children may find it helpful to have an individual workstation they use some of the time that has reduced distractions whilst also having the option to use group seating.
12. Reading / Writing aids
There are many types of aids that could be used such as easy grips for pencils (or scissors), coloured overlays or even Laptops / tablets to assist with writing. The SENCO may be able to give your child a range of aids to try and see what works best for them.
13. Movement Breaks
Many children will find movement breaks helpful and if this can be done for the whole class that is great. Even short movement activities can help a child refocus and or self-regulate.
14. Clear Communication
Ensuring that teachers are using clear concise language and communication can make a big difference for some. This can be reducing language used with young children or writing down homework tasks for an older child.
15. Autism Friendly Strategies
Using multi-sensory learning or even the TEACCH method can be helpful to many autistic students.
16. Alternative Arrangements
For trips or events at school that may be out of the ordinary such as sports day, non-uniform day or day trips a child may need extra support or alternative arrangements to be made. It is good to think about anything that is not routine in advance and be prepared.
17. Time Out Cards
When a child is overwhelmed or needs a break they may need a subtle way to signal this to a teacher. It is important to remember that when a child is struggling they may not be able to verbally ask for help so having a card may be a good option for some.
18. Exam Supports
Schools can decide to give a child extra time, a quiet room or a prompter to support with exams.
19. Behaviour support plan
If you have a child that is displaying some challenging behaviour it is good to have a behaviour support plan in place that details how situations will be managed. It is good if this is done in consultation with the parents and sometimes the child also. It is also helpful to be consistent across school and home when managing certain challenging behaviours so having agreed approaches can be useful.
20. Home school communication
When a child needs additional support it is good if school and home are in regular contact. Often we see children masking behaviour in school so the only indication that they need extra help or that something is not working may be at home. This is why good communication between home and school can be so valuable. You may have a home-school communication book between the parent or child or regular email contact.
21. Autism Awareness
If peers and staff have a good understanding of autism and the difference that can mean in interaction such as eye contact, body language and speech can enable better inclusion for the child who is different and avoid misunderstandings. It is always good to ask if the teachers have had autism training recently.
Small things really can make a huge difference! Does your child have any adjustments in place at school? Is there anything you would add to the list let me know in the comments.
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