On Thursday, The One Nation leader, Pauline Hanson declared that the impact autistic children had on their neurotypical classmates was an issue. Many parents of autistic children and behavioural specialists retaliated, saying this painted the children in an unfairly bad light, and their behaviour as intentionally disruptive rather than the involuntary effects of their condition. In an age where the behaviour of autistic individuals is already measured against a neurotypical norm, children with disabilities are already misunderstood.
“I hear so many times from parents and teachers whose time is taken up with children in the classroom where they have a disability, or where they are autistic, that it is taking up the teacher’s time,”
“These kids have a right to an education by all means but, if there is a number of them, these children should actually go into a special classroom, looked after and given that special attention.
“I think that we have more autistic children and yet we are not providing the special classrooms or the schools for these autistic children and, if there are, they’re at huge expense to parents.
“We have to be realistic at times and consider the impact that is having on other children in that classroom.”
– Pauline Hanson, One Nation leader
Whilst she has since apologised, her comments raise an important issue about how we view neuroatypical children in schools. Obviously, everyone deserves a right to learn, and that extends to neurotypical children as much as to neuroatypical children. However, the rhetoric Hanson has set out sets a dangerous precedent: that the wellbeing of autistic students should be second to the learning of neurotypical children. Rather than getting into the politics of this statement, I’m offering 5 tips for teachers in mainstream schools on helping their autistic students thrive. I’m not a professional, or an educator, but I do have personal experience – and that is what this advice is based on. Not everything will work for every child, so my ultimate tip is always to talk to the child themselves and their parents. However, here are a few more general tips and tricks!
5 Tips For Mainstream Teachers on Helping Their Autistic Pupils to Thrive at School:
1.) Quiet spaces
For a lot of people with autism, sensory overload is a real issue. Having somewhere they can go at lunchtime, or during times when everyone is busily playing in the classroom, having somewhere quiet to go and calm down, read, or play quietly alone is a great way of avoiding meltdowns, making your student with autism feel safe, and making sure the rest of the class can keep working while that student calms down.
For many autistic people, having a schedule helps to keep them feel calm and minimises the amount of change and spontaneity they have to handle in a day. Many schools have a timetable, so if you can stick to this, do. If there will be a change to the schedule, inform your autistic pupil ahead of time, and support them through that change if they need it.
Before any teachers wince at the thought of fidget spinners, consider this: before everyone and their mother had one, fidget toys like this have been used by autistic people for years. If you don’t want to allow fidget spinners, find a fidget you don’t mind your pupil having to help them focus. That may be a little ball of blu-tack or a kick band on their chair. Be considerate: fidgets aren’t toys for people who need them; they’re tools.
Sometimes, it isn’t appropriate to punish autistic children for the same things we punish neurotypical children for. Before anyone comments saying “children with autism shouldn’t be excused for bad behaviour because of their condition”, let me explain. There is a difference between a tantrum and a meltdown, and punishing a meltdown is wrong. It isn’t a response to not getting a toy they want, it is a reaction to overstimulus. In many other situations too, we must remember that how we treat neurodivergent children shouldn’t be based off of a neurotypical rule book.
Children who have autism can find navigating social situations difficult. What makes that more difficult is if the people around them don’t understand them. It is important for the rest of your class to know about autism, and how we are all different. You can download some autism awareness lesson plans here:
Let me know if you have any other tips for teaching children with autism below, or tweet us!
Stay safe, friends. x