Children With Autism and ASDs in School

I have a relative with mild Asperger’s. I’m not sure i can ever really know what that means in terms of how it changes life experiences. Over the last 10 years or so I’ve had a number of occasions when I and colleagues have needed to wrestle with complex issues about whether or not our schools could meet the education needs of a particular child either diagnosed with Autism or an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

It’s always seemed to me that when a child is diagnosed with a learning challenge like ADHD or Dyslexia and the diagnosis suggests ‘mild or mild to moderate’ the prognosis was usually good that we would be able to find the right strategies to provide the child with appropriate support so that they could function, learn and flourish in a mainstream classroom and the day to day hurly-burly of a conventional school environment. However, time after time my experience has been that our ability to meet the needs of children with Autism or ASDs remained disappointing more often than not. This raised difficult questions both about our ability to meet the needs of that child and also the price to be paid by other children.

I recently came across this fascinating insight – 5 youtube videos brought together by Mashable, in which young people with ASDs have attempted to share their experience with a wider audience, to help the rest of us to get some glimmer of understanding about how they experience the world.

Mashable – 5 Autism Simulations

For me, after watching these 5 short videos the experience was quite a disturbing one. Firstly, I felt that anyone (but especially educators) who spends any time in proximity with those with ASDs should experience these videos. It also left me with disturbing questions about whether our conventional schools, as they exist today, can ever be anything other than a place of torture and extreme stress for the person with an ASD.

The conventional school today is a place with rigid time structured activities where all children in a cohort group are to do the same thing, at the same time, in the same place in the same way. There is little scope for real flexibility. Periods of ‘suppression’ and ‘control’ are interspersed with periods when the children’s natural exuberance is allowed full and free expression – meaning they can be very noisy places.

One of the biggest changes in the modern primary classroom over the last 30-40 years is that it’s become much more colourful. There’s an automatic assumption amongst educators that this is a good thing, but after watching these videos one has to conclude it’s almost certainly a bad thing for a child with an ASD. This simply contributes to more sensory overload.

On other change we’ve seen in most Primary Schools is the teachers being more ‘tactile’ with children as part of a more sensitive, nurturing style. However, again I can see that this may not be a good thing for the child with ASD.

In the end, are we to conclude that the school today is a bad place for children living with autism, or do we take this as a wake up call to find the ways to bring changes in to the school/ classroom environment so that they can be more conducive places for such children? Is this practically possible?

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