Pupils with autism are too often excluded from mainstream schools, but Ryan Kelsall believes that an accepting and individualised approach to SEN education is the answer.
Students with autism are often academically and cognitively able to access a mainstream curriculum but because of the size, daily structures and systems set out in mainstream school environments, they aren’t able to reach their potential. Young people with autism often respond better to teaching when working in smaller groups and when they are in an environment that provides break out spaces and additional rooms where they can work directly with a one-on-one support assistant. A teacher that is working with a class size of eight students, as opposed to 32 in a mainstream school, will be able to engage more and build more personal relationships with students, encouraging them to realise and reach their full potential. Young people with autism also respond well to the presence of natural light, wide corridors and spaces for them to navigate around and sensory spaces, all to enhance the environment and to make them feel comfortable.
In order to remove some of these barriers faced by young people along their educational journey, relationship building should be at the heart of a student’s time at school. These relationships should include those between each student and the staff they work with, other students in the school and their families and support networks. Right from the outset, the whole family should be involved in the young person’s time at school. We also hold constructive conversations with an open and enquiring approach, collaborating with families, teachers and teaching assistants, ensuring that we can provide cohesive support and find out how we can best tailor each student’s education to meet their needs as they grow.
An individual approach
Children should be allowed, and actively encouraged, to develop at a pace that suits their needs so as to achieve, match and better their hopes, dreams and ambitions. This is something that can often be overlooked when students with autism study at a mainstream school. However, through active and regular conversations and an individualised approach for each student, school staff members will be able to identify students’ needs and look for the very best ways in which they can be supported. It is vital than when working with a young person with autism, we realise that no one student will be the same. Through a holistic approach to education, we can tailor our curriculum to suit the needs of each young person and allow them to reach their full potential.
The International Baccalaureate
Our curriculum at the Cavendish school will follow the International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes because of its broad and balanced nature, and all frameworks of learning pay close attention to the development of the whole student, both at school and beyond. The IB will be taught alongside accredited qualifications and specific therapies or interventions as appropriate for individuals, and learning is both contextualised and all-inclusive. Our teaching will be adapted and differentiated for the needs of the individuals and the curriculum model will also allow for a wide range of activities, like Forest School, Lego therapy and life skills.
Autism education should celebrate diversity. It should be accepting, respecting and recognising of neurological and developmental differences and committed to removing barriers to inclusion for young people with autism within and beyond the school community. We believe that providing a holistic and welcoming means of schooling will provide our students with the skills, confidence and abilities to take their place in the world.