After many months in lockdown and with the looming uncertainty of the summer holidays and return to school in the shadow of a global pandemic, many parents and education professionals find themselves under a lot of pressure as they are trying to adjust to an ever-changing “new normal”. Our guest blogger, Claire Phillips (AET Hub Lead, Special Needs & Autism Adviser, Integra Schools, South Gloucestershire LA) shares her thoughts and experiences about adjustments we can all consider the relieve anxiety and pressure.
Pressure simply means how much something is pushing on something else – whether it is a physical force or a stressful situation.
Pressure is something we all feel in our lives at one time or another. For an autistic pupil, it is something that they often feel every day, or sometimes in every waking moment, particularly in relation to school.
Examples of pressure might be – pressure to leave the safety and comfort of home, pressure to fit in, pressure to be sociable, pressure to learn about things that they are not interested in, pressure to stay in a space that makes them feel uncomfortable or pressure to get things right.
Many parents and carers have shared with me that being at home has had a significantly positive effect on removing the pressure that most autistic children and young people who are anxious feel about going to school. This is not the case for every child. However, it seems that the reduced pressure from not attending school and being able to learn at home has often led to re-engagement with education in a new way.
Parents and carers have told me that these are some of the things that are helping their children to engage with thinking and learning:
- the slower pace – maybe taking up to 48 hours to complete a piece of work
- no rushing, e.g. getting up and going through routines in their own time
- being able to control and manage their own learning – child-led
- no big or sudden transitions
- sensory issues decreased, e.g. not having to wear uniform, choosing where to learn
- frequent breaks
- giving choices
- time with their interests whenever they need this
- opportunities for life skills learning, e.g. cooking, putting on washing
- no post school fall out
The reduction in anxiety related to these has meant that the young person has increased head space to think about learning and life-skills. There are also new opportunities to reflect, to allow new ideas to take root and for a general easing of racing or anxious thoughts.
There are important lessons to be learned here for us as education professionals and we need to be thinking about how we can reduce pressure for pupils when they return to school so that there is more room in their heads to enable them to learn and so that their wellbeing is not compromised by the pressure that they feel at school.
Perhaps we could consider some of these and include adaptations to future planning:
- making a change in the pace of learning – tuning into the pupil’s pace rather than the pace that the curriculum demands
- allowing the pupil as much time as they need to complete a task and letting them finish
- using choice boards where the pupil decides the order of learning but the choices are managed by the teacher
- adapting transitions by giving extra time, providing a buddy or planning a bridge building activity, e.g. when coming off a screen, move to another preferred activity before learning
- carrying out a sensory profile check to ensure we really know how the eight senses are affecting the pupil and how we can adapt the environment to support them
- building in dedicated time for the child’s special interest – it should not just be a reward – it provides important time for relaxation and reduces anxiety during the school day
- factoring in what else our autistic pupils need for their lifelong learning – is it to improve their communication, support for friendship skills, learning how to do practical tasks? How can we make time for this during the school week?
It is so important that our autistic pupils do not feel under too much pressure at school as this reduces their ability to engage with learning and can lead to a build-up of anxiety and withdrawal from socialising with friends and family.
The downside of being at home is perhaps losing that ‘real’ social connection with friends. But there are ways in which to keep connections going….more of this in a future blog.