SPOTLIGHT ON SEND Making your spaces

autism-friendly Back in October 2019, regular Education Today contributor KATE SARGINSON, Deputy Headteacher and SENCO, asked us to consider how the school environment can be better tailored to meet the needs of pupils with autism.

This month The National Autistic Society (NAS) is repeating its Autism Hour campaign. It is focused on encouraging retailers to make their stores more Autism-friendly for a fixed period of 60 minutes between 5th and 12th October. A mainstream school environment could be seen to have many similarities with shops and restaurants. The NAS highlight that a typical shopping experience can be

confusing and stressful. What can schools learn from the recommendations of this campaign? Autism Hour consists of two key parts – environment and

education. Stores are encouraged to reduce the sensory stimuli such as music and other background noise which might be distracting or unbearably loud. Bright lighting might showcase products, but dimming the lights might be really beneficial for someone with autism. Pupils and staff inhabit buildings with fluorescent lighting that many people with autism say they are distracted by as they can see flickering or hear them hum. Distractions through school windows can be limited however, pupils with autism may experience difficulties around slatted vertical blinds. Stores can also consider reducing strong smells, providing clear information about where products are and create a quiet space to access. Sweaty changing rooms, freshly cut grass on the fields, school dinners being prepared all generate a range of scents; research suggests the use of a background fragrance to block the intrusive smells. Some people with autism can become anxious or become fixated about walking across patterned floors. Schools could consider the use of carpet or soft flooring. Consideration should be given to the colours used on walls and adjustable lighting options that are more calming. In schools we tend to fill spaces with bright and colourful displays when some pupils will benefit more from the creation of areas that are plain and functional. In contrast, limiting stimuli to specific areas such as sensory room, an expensive option, an alternative could be a basket of items that can be selected for use, such as mirrors, stress balls and whistles. In order to give people with autism a positive shopping

experience, stores are advised to share information about autism with their staff teams to educate them. Familiarity with the term ‘autism’ is continually improving, with figures stating that over 99% of people have heard of it. However, this is not yet being reflected in more developed appreciation and action, as only 16% of autistic people are reported to feel they are understood by the public. Schools can consider how to extend staff skills from beyond autism awareness to autism understanding. 67% of people felt their shopping experience was improved

during Autism Hour last year, with 93% of respondents stating they are more likely to go to a shop that held a regular autism hour. If these findings are applied to the educational setting there could be useful implications for the well-being and consequent attendance rates if teachers increasingly consider and plan the physical structure of the school environment to be better tailored to meet their preferences and needs of pupils with autism.

20 Supporting children

who stammer In March this year, regular Education Today SEND contributor KATE SARGINSON, Deputy Headteacher and SENCO, looked at the challenges facing children who stammer.

In 2011 George VI’s stammer was made famous by the movie ‘The King’s Speech,’ Colin Firth’s Oscar winning performance portrayed the debilitating impact of stammering upon the Queen’s Father. 2 years later the issue was highlighted in the popular Channel 4 programme ‘Educating Yorkshire’ with an emotive episode featuring Musharaf Asghar and his determination to successfully complete an English Oral exam with the passionate support of his teacher Mr Burton. It is perhaps not well known that people in the public eye such as Emily Blunt, Marilyn Monroe and Ed Sheeran have experienced stammering. Politician Ed Balls may be memorable for his stint on Strictly Come Dancing in 2016, but he is also the Vice President of charity ‘Action for Stammering Children’ (ASC) having a stammer himself. Studies suggest that 8% of children will stammer at some point, with approximately 1% continuing to stammer into adulthood*.This communication issue could affect more people than many teachers realise - what can schools do to help? It is not known what causes stammering, although inherited

factors are believed to be a factor - around 2 in 3 people who stammer have a family history of it. It is also unclear why stammering is more common in boys than girls. The most common type of stammering is known as developmental stammering. Speech problems usually become apparent between the ages of 2 and 5 when children are learning to speak. In early childhood, the brain and the muscles responsible for speaking and breathing connect. If this system does not develop fully, a child can encounter difficulties saying words clearly in the right order, with an appropriate rhythm, use of pauses and correct emphasis. Many children grow out of stammering, the NHS state around

2 out of every 3, and schools can play a part in supporting children.

• Don’t finish off sentences if a child is struggling to get the words out.

• Don’t advise a child to slow down or speed up. • Focus on what a child is saying, not how they're saying it.

• Give the child additional time – both to understand and process what is being said to them and formulate their response.

The rest of a child’s life can be affected by what happens at

school and how teachers understand and support them. Fluency can be influenced by the classroom atmosphere and environment. It is crucial to recognise that as children mature and become more self-aware their behaviour may change as they try to disguise their difficulties. Teachers also need to be conscious of how peers react and the risk of bullying or teasing and build confidence to contribute verbally. To reduce attention being drawn to them, children who stammer may prefer to stay quiet in the classroom, but this is not a solution. Supporting a child with simple steps can increase mental well-being and prevent feelings of isolation, loneliness and frustration that have been typically experienced by pupils who stammer.

*according to research findings published by ASC. Editor’s Choice 2020

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