About Me

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I am a special education teacher in England, working in a mainstream academy with a centre for children with learning difficulties. I teach a class of 7 students of secondary age with profound and multiple learning difficulties. These include autism, visual impairment and sensory integration disorder. I love love love my job. It inspires ,enthuses .and lifts me and I never intend to retire. :)

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Never assume anything when dealing with autism

I have been looking forward to today for a few weeks . We were taking our
two classes of students with complex needs to The Alan Shearer Centre .
Only open for 3 years it boasts three state of the art sensory rooms;
the white room, the UV room and the blue room, a huge ball pool and
sensory cave . Even without the students I wanted to go and have fun!
I , of course, thought this would be a great opportunity for them and
they would be lost in wonder at all the strange and exciting

My class has five students. Two are in wheel chairs , with limited
physical ability and profound learning difficulties. The other three
are mobile [in fact very mobile!!] and have severe autism and
additional severe learning difficulties . These last three have the
sensory integration problems that accompany autism. I have just started
researching sensory integration problems in greater depth and found it
to be a fascinating minefield of information. So many different ways of
experiencing SID and in fact within just one student differences are
evident. For example they may be sensory seeking of tactile experiences
, but very defensive towards other sensory modals

I have a pretty good understanding of the individuals within my class,
I know what motivates them , that being the very first thing I make it
my business to find out . I know the level they're .functioning at and
the variations in levels according to subjects. I know what makes them
happy and what makes them sad or angry and the ways they communicate
those feelings. Oh yes,I know what makes them tick!

Well today held a few surprises for me!
S a wonderful child , usually happy , spends much time flapping paper
before his eyes. He enjoys trips out and as long as a familiar person
is around can be kept happy.He gets excited easily and jumps up and
down squeaking with happiness and laughing uncontrollably! He does
have times when he's anxious , and during those times he needs to flap
paper even more, searching for more books , leaflets, IEPs , anything
he can find. When hes got enough, in his opinion, he sits on the floor
with them spread around him . He also has an obsession with tidying
when anxious. No, I can't call it tidying as he pokes things in little
spaces, behind cupboards and drawers and under tables to get them out
of his sight but leaving these pockets of mess for us to tidy later. De
cluttering is a better description. The more anxious he is, the more he
declutters. He has been known to try and tidy my arms behind my
back!And the number of things that end up in the bin: shoes, cups and
other useful items of daily living are put there so S can no longer see
them.S is never happier than when elbow deep in shaving foam, sand,
water or any other tactile experience Knowing how active and energetic
S is he started today's experience in the ball pool. The balls lit up
and changed colour and there was a moving projection of planets on the
wall. Despite S love of tactile experience, he took an instant dislike
to the ball pool. Grabbing two handfuls of my hair he left me in no
doubt of that fact! Soon he started looking around for paper to flap
and pulled the fire instructions of the wall, shouting in fear and
anger . This continued into the sensory cave until he settled in front
of a colour changing infinity tunnel.
Things got worse from there! We took him next to the white room [meant
to be relaxing] which had bubble tubes, colour panels and music,fibre
optics and interactive light displays and I started to see things from
S's view. The room was small, had too many people in, extremely hot and
the music was loud which was vieing for attention with the people
talking to each other. All the equipment was on at the same time as we
were told not to touch the controls and S was EXTREMELY overstimulated.
Everything, visual and auditory was screaming at him and it was too
much for his overloaded sensory system to cope with .S sat in a corner,
turned his back on everything and flapped frantically. Bless him, we
had brought S to his own personal Hell
Now J is a sensory seeker and spends most of the time seeking more and
more stimulus, of all kinds, movement, tactile, smell. His particular
form of greeting is to smell you! He loved the sensory cave full of
different textures to touch and walk on . He enjoyed throwing the balls
out of the ball pool and at us! He enjoyed the white room, sitting
happily among all the equipment. However when he'd been led to yet
enough room he put a jumper over his head and shut down. The sensory
seeker was all sensed out!
A was the student I was going to keep an eye on. He is sensory
defensive, prefers not to look at anything, prefers not to move and
hates tactile experiences especially on his hands. I was prepared to
take him outside if necessary. However, big surprise! He had a ball. He
loved everything from beginning to end . He sat in the ball pool and
smiled, he sat in the white room and smiled more , he sat on the
vibrating platform and giggled and in the swing he shouted excitedly.
So how well do I know my students? I think I made three erroneous
assumptions . Firstly, that because it sounds like an exciting place to
me I assumed it would be for my class. I failed to think about it with
their minds and the effect it may have on them. Then because a child is
a sensory seeker he can have too much stimulation . I assumed all
stimulation would be good stimulation. I also failed to recognise that
defensiveness in some sensory modals doesn't rule out extreme enjoyment
in others.
Today has been a great learning experience. Its given me ideas to use
to motivate and stimulate A towards progression. I have realised that S
needs clutter free rooms because he gets overstimulated and flaps to
block out the discomfort this brings . I can make adjustments to his
learning environment and methods to accommodate this need. I will have
only one or two pieces of interactive equipment on at any one time when
we get our own state of the sensory room.Education is always a learning
process, not only for the students but for the teachers . Most
importantly I shall endeavour to plan our trips with my" autism mind",
always considering the effect on them.more than whether it will fit the
curriculum or it seems like a good idea.

1 comment:

  1. By the way,the incredibly bad sentance layout and punctuation is not me but Blogger's responsibility! I have gone back and edited many times but it won't post my corrections to my blog! Grrrr!