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AET - Learning in Lockdown: Ten Ways Schools Can Create Better Learning Alignments with Parents with Autistic Students

Advice for Teachers from Parents...

  1. Work with parents and keep a close dialogue, because it's parents who have been with the child for months.
  2. Take onboard all the parents' concerns, if they have any.
  3. Be aware that a lot of things with Autism are hidden. So, just becasue you can't see it, doesn't mean it's not there.
  4. It's difficult for a teacher to deal with the pressures they've got. But I think when they see behaviour that they think is negative or they don't understand it, just step back for a second and don't react.
  5. Apply a lot of patience and understanding - and even more awareness than the normal.
  6. Just try to remove all their stresses. Don't overload them with stress. I think if we can try and remove that or a safe space or somewhere they can go. I think that's the biggest thing we've learned.
  7. Have an awareness that a child that had sensory sensitivites to something before, that those sensory sensitivites might be more so.
  8. I've encouraged other parents to communicate what they've learned about their child during lockdown. So, I have sent education passports, one page profiles to people, and said "fill these in and communicate it".
  9. There's a lot more flexibility in the education system at the moment. It would be really good if we could see those changes, that willingness to make changes, that willingness to do things differently, that would be really good if that stayed.
  10. Lots of communication!

Making remote learning accessible for Children and Young People (CYPs) with Communication and Interaction (C&I) Differences

Some individuals may feel anxious about engaging within home learning via virtual platforms and/or have limited experiences of using technology. Additionally some parents/carers may not feel confident using these methods.

It is important to acknowledge that pre-engagement work might need to be carried out to support CYPs to participate with remote home learning. Adopting relational approaches may need to be a key focus, initially the aim may be for the CYP to feel regulated and to begin exploring use of equipment before any expectation is placed on them to engage remotely with academic/learning tasks.

If CYPs are finding it difficult to engage (due to possible anxiety/sensory processing/learning differences).

5 Tips to support pre-engagement work:

  • Using joint interests as an engagement starter (which may not be a 2 way conversation initially) for example: if the pupil enjoys football perhaps you could briefly watch a clip together, listen to a favourite piece of music, or if a pupil enjoys a particular book/topic the adult may comment on the pictures/themes/read a few sentences of chapters. Depending on the child’s level of engagement, this may be the entirety of that session but identifying that these small steps can make a difference and facilitate progress
  • Trusted and familiar adults from school to contact via email/pre-recorded messages/ video/audio calls to let the CYP know that they are kept in mind but removing the expectation that they have to respond or that it has an ‘educational purpose’ (avoid questions, focus on comments and low demands). This could be a brief message from a member of the school team talking about their own day or forwarding photos of the classroom/key places (this will act as a reminder that school is a safe and positive place)
  • Clear Expectations - Discuss differentiated home learning provision with the CYP and their family; considering how a gradual engagement plan would look e.g. such as agreeing what lessons/subjects the pupil will try to attend and the number and duration. It may be helpful to have this information visually recorded (using photos, symbols or written form) as this provides concrete facts with a clear start and finish to tasks (for some young people this may be essential as the boundaries between home life and school are less obvious as they are currently learning at home
  • Making a Timetable/plan (forward to the CYP before sessions), possibly creating an opportunity for checking in with T.A/ 1-1 on an individual basis (pre-teaching) prior to joining whole class session as well as additional time after lessons to check understanding. Having a task planner displayed and shared on screen to regularly reference to may also be beneficial
  • Consider environmental factors when delivering lessons virtually, such as ensuring there is adequate lighting (no glare), audio settings are working effectively and background noise is minimised etc. CYPs with C&I needs can find non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, tone of voice and body language difficult to read/interpret, therefore be mindful that they are able to clearly see you on screen

5 tips to maintain engagement:

  • Establishing some ground rules for online learning (individual/whole class), what can be discussed within these forums and the various functions that could be used e.g. utilising the ‘hand up’ option for sharing ideas and understanding that the teacher has control over ‘mute’ options
  • Encouraging regulation activities before embarking on learning (emotionally and from a sensory perspective) such as breathing exercises, mediation, yoga or ‘proprioceptive’ tasks’.
  • Offering praise – Using reward charts/working towards boards according to individual needs and interests. This will need to be explicitly implemented beforehand so that the pupil has a clear understanding of what is expected of them to complete a task (success criteria)
  • Alternative recording methods - Ways that CYPs can record and provide evidence of their work e.g. if the student prefers to record their work on paper rather than on screen (typing), could a photograph be taken to demonstrate their understanding instead?
  • Narrative supports to help prepare the CYP to manage unpredictable situations such as when there is ‘poor internet connectivity’, difficulties during class discussions such as effective turn taking

Additional factors to consider:

  • Minimising background clutter when delivering lessons online to support the CYP to attend to the speaker and topic
  • Reassuring the CYP that they can use alternative ways to communicate – speech (if comfortable), chat option, hand up facility, agree a nonverbal gesture/visual image/ phrase to indicate when help is required
  • Acknowledge that for some CYPs it may feel overwhelming and/or uncomfortable seeing their own/others face displayed on the screen. Reassure and remind them that they can turn their video off to aid concentration and to alleviate anxiety
  • Using key words, slow down speech (be aware of Blank language levels)
  • Regularly checking the CYPs understanding of the task, avoid closed ended questions such as “does everyone understand?”
  • Utilise option for break out rooms for 1-1/small group work
  • Using visual supports (signing, photos, symbols etc.) to supplement speech
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