Our guest blogger is Rachel Walker, Deputy Head of Russet House School and Head of Enfield Advisory Service for Autism. Her blog post gives practical advice to teachers and education professionals on home-learning for autistic pupils with complex needs.
Our school, like many others across the country, has been busy with providing home-learning activities for our pupils during the Coronavirus Pandemic. Russet House School (RHS) caters for 116 primary-aged pupils with autism and complex needs. It is also home to the Enfield Advisory Service for Autism (EASA) which serves schools and families across the Enfield borough. Lockdown or not, teachers at RHS and EASA have always deemed it important to work with families as equal partners in their children’s education. The current situation has given us the incentive to renew our home-learning resources and update our advice for school staff and families.
In this post, we’ll be outlining the guiding principles we employed in creating our home-learning offer. We draw on key themes from the Autism Education Trust training materials (https://www.autismeducationtrust.org.uk/training-programme/) as well as research into homework and the importance of transferring learning between school and home for autistic pupils.
What is Home-learning and Why Does it Matter?
Parents have a vital role to play in the education and development of their children (SEND Code of Practice, 2015 & AET Complex Needs and Participation Training Module). This is particularly so for autistic children who may struggle to transfer and generalise their learning from school to home and vice versa (Winner 2011). It is important for parents and teachers to work together to help children transfer the skills they have to home and community. ‘Improving social communication skills is often a priority for families. It is also the foundation upon which many other crucial skills are built.’ (AET Complex Needs and Participation Training Module, slide 40). In planning home-learning activities that help families to improve social communication with their children, teachers are able to increase the positive impact of their work, improving each child’s development and life chances.
It can be difficult and distressing for parents of autistic children to work with them at home because they can be aloof and harder to engage than neurotypical siblings (Glazzard and Overall 2012). Helping families overcome the barriers and build in more opportunities for interaction can be life-changing, both practically and emotionally.
Parents are experts on their children and their children’s interests; teachers know how to help children engage with learning. In providing well-matched activities and problem-solving together when necessary, parents and teachers can make a world of difference to the child’s future.
How Home-learning can Support Development in the 4 Key Areas of Difference in Autism (AET) https://www.autismeducationtrust.org.uk/what-is-autism/
How to Create Home-learning Activities: a Guide for Teachers
- Consider the developmental level of the pupil(s) you are planning an activity for and write something specific for that level (e.g. sensory learner or pre-NC equivalent). If your activity idea could be adapted for different levels of ability, write separate activity sheets for each. Parents may be daunted by activity ideas that are too broad, seem unrealistic or need a lot of adapting for their child.
- Plan activities that use household items the family may already have (toys, groceries, empty bottles etc.). This is especially important during lockdown, when it may not be easy to source new items, and many families may be facing financial hardship.
- Access to electronic equipment may be limited in many homes so try to avoid activities which need a screen or printer. For some children, screen time can hinder opportunities for social interaction with parents so this is another reason to plan other, more practical activities.
- Consider the pupils’ special interests and create something that can be adapted to include a favoured theme, preferred materials, favourite colours or sounds etc. It will be easier for parents to engage and motivate their child if the task is appealing to them.
- Think about the roles the parent and child will have in the activity. There will be some parts the parent needs to prepare beforehand, or do in front of their child, and there will be other aspects the child can do with, or without, support. Make these roles clear in the written instructions.
- Have a ‘you will need’ list so that parents can get everything ready before attempting the activity with their child. Going to get something mid-activity can ruin the moment!
- Create clear, step-by-step instructions that explain how to set up the activity and what to do during it. You may want to include examples of phrases the parent should use (minimal language, for example). Some photos of the activity will be helpful so parents can see what’s involved and children can be shown a picture of what they are going to do.
- Remind and reassure parents that they may need to repeat an activity many times in the same way for children to understand the expectations and engage with the activity. The child may need to see others (parents or siblings) doing an activity several times before they will join in. Participation may be limited depending upon the concentration span of the child. A few turns or a few minutes may be enough for one session.
- Be prepared to problem-solve with the family to adapt the activity if it is too easy, too hard or not motivating enough.
Find out more
More information on the ideas in this blog can be found in the Home-learning section of our website, along with some of our Home-learning Activities. See www.enfieldasa.org.uk/Home-Learning-Activities/
Dr. Rachel Walker, RHS and EASA, May 2020
Glazzard, J. and K. Overall (2012). “Living with autistic spectrum disorder: parental experiences of raising a child with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).” British Journal of Learning Support 27(1): 37-45.
Winner, M. G. (2011). “Autism, Homework and Beyond.” From the professionals. Retrieved 02/01/2013.