On Tuesday March 11th Cath Manns, one of Surrey's autism outreach teachers from Freemantles School spoke for over an hour covering topics such as the outreach service, the Earlybird Scheme, and tools and strategies for tackling behavioural problems. Her presentation is available to listen to in either RealAudio format or MP3 format. In order to listen to the talk in Real Audio format you must have RealPlayer installed on your computer. You can follow the instructions on the BBC Radio 4 website on how to download the free version of the player from RealNetworks. For the MP3 recordings, most PC's will already have suitable software - however the Windows Media Player available at the Windows Media Site is known to play these files particularly well. Please note that if you select MP3 format, that there will be a significant delay before the sound file plays, whereas with real audio, you will hear the recording within a few seconds. The recording is broken down into 6 sections. Each section covers a topic or a question. Just click on the file type of the title or topic that interests you to start listening.
Read the review of the evening
Cath explained that the Outreach service is funded by the Local Education Authority (LEA) and consists of one full-time and one part-time teacher from each of the autism-specific special schools, Freemantles and Linden Bridge. At the moment the service can only support children in mainstream primary schools, as they do not have the staff to support secondary schools too.
The outreach teachers can be contacted by schools, GPs, Educational Psychologists or multi-disciplinary assessment services. They observe the child in the classroom and discuss strategies to help them with the class teacher, as well as talking to the parents. They also provide written feedback after the visit. As well as helping individual children, the outreach staff also run training workshops for all staff at the schools they are involved with, looking at ideas for adapting the curriculum to help children on the autistic spectrum, and specific strategies to help with behavioural issues.
The outreach team also run Earlybird courses for parents of pre-school children who have autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs). Each course has six families and with a mixture of group sessions and home visits the families learn about autism and how to help their child.
Cath went on to describe some of the strategies she recommends when advising schools and families. Firstly she talked about how to communicate with a child on the autistic spectrum. She said it is important to use as few words as possible when communicating - try to say important, information-carrying words and not the unimportant ones. Allow extra time for the child to process what has been said, and write down the instructions too if the child can read. Remember how easily children with ASDs can misunderstand what is said because they take things literally. Demonstrate what is required by doing it yourself if possible, and say the child's name before you give the instruction to make sure he realises it is for him.
Cath talked about communication systems for those who have little language, such as Makaton signing or PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System). She also described using picture timetables to help children understand the structure of the day and what will happen next, and talked about the importance of giving advance warning of any change to the routine. Cath went on to describe Social Stories, the system devised by Carol Gray in which short stories are written for individual children to describe a situation they need to understand.
Turning to the topic of challenging behaviour, Cath explained that children on the autistic spectrum are usually not being deliberately aggressive, but reacting automatically to stress without any awareness of what they are doing. She explained that our children spend a great deal of their time feeling anxiety and stress - particularly at school. Sometimes the stress can be relieved by repetitive behaviour, but if it gets worse the body reacts physically with a raised temperature and adrenaline is released, then body fat is converted to energy which has to be released - often by apparently aggressive behaviour. Reducing stress by making clear what will happen throughout the day can help, and reward systems can be used to encourage wanted behaviour, but the reward must be relevant to the child concerned.
Listen to the recording
Review is © 2003 Sara Truman. Our thanks to Cath Manns for giving permission for the recordings to be made available.
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