I’m going to put a positive spin on my tumultuous emotions regarding Jude’s current school situation. So here goes…
Attributes I think are important for a special needs school:
- The ability to teach children as individuals. Not everyone can sit in a classroom and learn by staring at a boring piece of paper. This shouldn’t be criticised, it should be seen as a challenge to the teacher to find out how best this child likes to explore and discover new things. A school I visited this week had given a child (who would have been treated as a demon in some settings *won’t name any*) his own cupboard with his name above it and he was titled as “Groundsman” of the school. He wanders around with a hi-viz vest on genuinely believing he’s being allowed to avoid lessons and just help out. In reality, they are getting him to learn HOW HE LEARNS BEST so they ask him to measure benches that need replacing (maths and problem solving), paint new lines on the ground (art, coordination, maths.) He is so so happy and the teachers are still able to teach him.
- Have a decent understanding of a range of disabilities and understand that trying to teach them consequence is futile. A child like Jude doesn’t remember what he did three minutes ago so punishments such as being excluded from any classroom interaction is not going to help them understand what they have done wrong. Rather, talking, a stronger level of communication and time from a particular member of the teaching staff WILL induce the confidence that the child is potentially lacking in his setting.
- Exuding a positive and welcoming energy is always going to help a child feel comfortable and welcome and as such this child is more likely to feel like he is part of the class and will therefore behave. Again, children like Jude feed off of atmosphere so if you give Jude the impression you don’t like him then he’ll be a pain in the butt. If you talk to him like a human being and give your time to getting to know him, he’s like a completely different child.
- Include children in classes you know they will thrive in. Sounds simple right? Understand this situation if you can. Take a child like Jude, make him do his morning lessons even though he hates the classroom but exclude him from swimming because it may be a bit of a challenge for you despite the fact you know he loves swimming and his old school had no issues taking him off site. Jude LOVES swimming. Jude HATES sitting in a classroom. It’s only since visiting another school this week that I have realised how well special needs schools can cater for everyone with a little imagination. Jude is not awkward because he doesn’t function well in classrooms. He has autism. Teaching children to their ability runs right through the curriculum so why should we be constrained by classroom walls.
- Take each experience as it comes and don’t display shock or disgust at a child’s behaviour. Jude kicks out sometimes, especially when he’s unhappy, feels stressed, anxious, he thinks people don’t like him, he doesn’t understand something or he’s just confused. Pretty standard, especially for a child with autism. If you work in a special needs school this really shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Instead of berating a child for their bad behaviour, it’s better to brush over the anomalies and move onto safer, more positive ground. Children with autism rarely remember what they have done and sanctions do not work. During the talk at the school I visited yesterday, the Headteacher explained how they never sanction a child with autism as it’s utterly pointless. They have a high ratio of child/teacher so when necessary a child can have one to one attention and through this they are able to work through any situation. At Jude’s old school, he was pretty much given a key person who was his one to one every morning when he found school most stressful. He adored her, used to talk about her at home all the time and it was truly wonderful to see his face light up when I mentioned her name. If I EVER hear that Jude has been left in a room on his own as punishment for kicking out then there will be strong words to be had.
- It’s important to ensure a child is comfortable. Children like Jude wouldn’t think to take their jumper off if they’re hot. Take it off for them or if not, just give them a drink of water. Basic levels of care are not a strength for children with autism so keep a check on them and use your initiative. A child at the school I visited yesterday was having his buttons done up on his shirt by a teacher as he couldn’t independently do it. She clearly cared a great deal about him and you could see she wanted him to be comfortable. I guess what I’m saying is that in this type of setting you need to be more vigilant than in a mainstream school about some of the more basic things a parent would habitually do.
I’m going to leave it with these few for now and add to it as the week goes on. I’m sure plenty of other points will come up. I’d love to hear any that you can think of.
This is Jude’s face as I see it in my mind. He’s a happy boy and this is how I intend him to stay.