Susanne Anderson is a class teacher at Onthank Primary, Kilmarnock, having studied the BEd Primary Education course at the University of West of Scotland. She was nominated as an Autism Champion by the parents of one of her pupils.
I am currently the teacher of an enthusiastic Primary 4 class who are full of life.
At the start of the school year we had a transition meeting where I was able to meet with the parents of one autistic child to discuss and put in place steps for his move to Primary 4. It was a very positive meeting and allowed me to see how Primary 3 had really helped him. I left the meeting quite overwhelmed as I knew very little about Autism but could see how appreciative his parents were.
After seeing the effect of a positive experience in P3 I was determined to try and provide the pupil with another positive school experience. After teaching him for a while I acknowledged my understanding of autism was limited but I was keen and eager to learn more. From watching video clips and speaking to fellow colleagues I realised that communication between school and home was going to be a key factor. It also became apparent in the early stages of the school, that despite my lack of knowledge about the pupil and autism I had two ‘experts’ available to me in his parents. I was able to meet with them and they were able to talk me through his personality traits, behaviours, anxieties and ways to help settle him when needed. From that point onwards, his parents and I have been in regular communication throughout the year by sharing successes, concerns, questions etc by writing in a jotter. I’ve tried to keep this line of communication ‘transparent’ by sharing with the pupuil what I’ve written in it so when it is discussed at home it doesn’t come as a shock or surprise to him. There have even been occasions, positive and negative when he has requested himself that something be recorded in the jotter.
As time passed, his sense of humour and fantastic personality shone through. I wanted to create an environment where he felt safe, secure, trusted and respected – a place where he could be himself, without judgment.
At times when he was in distress I allowed him to enter a large cupboard which was connected to the classroom to give him space to relax.
Together we arrived at a number of strategiesto be utilised during the school day:
– Communication book
– Providing a quiet area for when he was in distress
(he was allowed to stay in there as long he needed – in reality it was never more than 5 mins and he was usually ready to discuss what had happened previously)
– Smile chart to give a breakdown of how he was feeling at different times of the day
– Given the option of going outside or staying inside if it was too noisy
– Use of classroom assistants to help keep a ‘visual’ on Finlay and to intervene when needed
– Having ‘check in’ chats with Finlay before or after playtime and lunchtime when required
– Allowing early entrance to the classroom to avoid the lines