One size doesn't fit all

Dearest readers,
I’ve had this topic on my list of about a month now (sorry Laura!) but now I feel is the time it would flow into this topic best after my reflections on the Inclusion and Diversity Study week in Siegen. When I first got asked this topic my first reaction is: I’m not qualified to write about this! But then who really is qualified (or thinks that they are?) and given that each one of us comes along with different life experiences and those in themselves can give you material upon which to reflect upon and help construct a response. I also feel I should start with the normal disclaimer of everyone being unique and, in this case most certainly, having different aspirations, intelligence and learning styles. There is no one size fits all, certainly not in education.

So the question I have been posed at hand: supporting a child with autism in a one-to-one educational setting - for parents/carers and tutors.

There is no hard and fast one thing that will work for each autistic individual. Like all children in education and in classroom settings, what may work in one situation with one group or child may not work. I don’t really have advice or tips to teach because I am not a teacher nor do I have a teacher qualification and I’m not going to pretend I do. Because I don’t. But what I do know is from my experience of when I was a pupil at school there were some things that teachers, tutors and group leaders did that worked for me and there were things that just didn’t do anyone any favours.

Something that does occur to me is something my Chemistry teacher for GCSE told my parents and I. Well, general good life advice really. He said, “Krysia, you may not always use the method which I teach you in class to get to the answer. But you always get the answer needed. And that’s great. Don’t change for anyone ever, you are great just the way you are.” I feel this has a lot of relevance to the topic at hand.And I guess the good rapport I had with my Chemistry teacher had a lot to do with my taking A-level Chemistry. Educational leaders need to encourage difference and diversity in methods of thought and approaches to learning. Obviously this is going to be easier in a one-to-one setting where it is much easier to mould, sculpt and adapt to the specific learning needs of your tutee. This could include a much more dexterous approach, frequent breaks, clear and unambiguous use of language and expectation and a general different pace to how you may pitch in a classroom. Use this to your advantage! Keeping what you need to do or cover as clear and accessible as possible may reduce confusion and frustration regarding the tasks required. I personally used to get really stressed if I didn’t quite know how to tackle a task or what exactly to do, and I would have never asked the teacher for help at fear of being told off for asking a stupid question (social anxiety alert) or being ignored trying to get their attention (resulting in embarrassment and the ‘oh I won’t do that again’ cycle). I spent most of my school career living in fear of being shouted at, screamed at or misunderstood. I still cannot tolerate being shouted at today. I also used to take any class telling off highly personally to the point I thought I was the person being verbally targeted and attacked. Obviously in hindsight this is not true but I could not differentiate between the teacher or tutor having a go at me or having a go at everyone when I hadn’t done anything wrong at the time, especially when I had followed rules and regulations religiously.

Learning is not also just learning concepts and facts, and I need to remember this too! We need to praise for any small achievement and steps, to build self-confidence and self-esteem. Even those we ourselves may not see as an achievement. Like asking for help, or staying seated, or that greeting at the door before we started. These situations have the potential to use up or drain energy before you may even get started on the one-to-one tasks! Therefore there is less energy left in the battery, if you use the image of a battery to demonstrate energy capacity. And this is majorly simplified; other outside or external situations or occurrences that you do not even know about may have happened that you are not even aware of. Good rapports and clear communication, if possible, with parents or carers would allow everyone to be on the same page and further allow adaptation and individualisation of tasks to be covered, in an ideal world.

I guess it is also important to consider the environment in which you are attempting to creating a learning environment too. Are there distractions - visual, auditory, smells, like flashing lights, clocks, beeping timers? Are the clothes the child is wearing causing discomfort? Are they in routine or is this an abrupt change to them from their previous routines? These are all things to consider as these will have an impact on concentration, energy and focus. Definitely have a look at the SPELL framework. This also links to this point; creating the right environment in location and time to learn is super important.

Learning is an individual experience for each and every one of us. We can all achieve. It is silly to think that there are some in society that cannot. Our focus on academia, getting good grades to get to the next stop and that’s great, but we all also need to recognise that we are all so much more than this. And there will be individuals who get more attention than others. Each of us needs praise to thrive and grow; it may be just what needs praise may differ.

Take care and until next,
-krysiawally

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