School survival guides published for children with autism

Teachers’, students’ and parents’ handbooks address the challenges of returning to class

Children with autism often have to deal with isolation, anxiety and bullying in school. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Children with autism often have to deal with isolation, anxiety and bullying in school. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Thu, Aug 21, 2014, 14:21

A new series of guides to help students with autism deal with the challenges they face in school has been published by support service AsIAm.

The ‘back to school survival guides’ have been published for parents, teachers and students to help people with autism deal with the isolation, anxiety and bullying that can be associated with returning to school.

AsIAm chief executive Adam Harris said the handbooks “aren’t a magic wand” but should help to improve communication between parents, teachers and students.

He said the organisation will also carry out a series of workshops in about 200 schools later in the year with a view to making them more autism friendly.

Mr Harris said the teachers’ handbook was like “a hitchhikers guide to autism” because “it is very hard to expect a teacher to be an expert in autism”.

The students’ handbook, he said, was aimed at second level students who are dealing with issues such as self awareness, anxiety and engaging with support services.

Autism is a developmental condition; people with it struggle with social communication, interaction and sensory processing. The autism spectrum is wide and the condition affects different people in different ways and to different degrees. Many people with autism also have other learning difficulties or other disabilities.

Former president of teachers’ union ASTI Sally Maguire stressed the need for communication between school and home as students prepare to return to class. “The biggest thing at this stage is communication between the student, the parent and the school,” she said.

When students make the transition from primary to second level they go from having one teacher a year to having up to 10 different teachers. “So it’s very important that the parents have one person to talk to,” she added.

Parent Carrie Burton said “the teacher needs to know the individual needs of your child because they will have had anxiety about going back to school all summer”.

Ms Burton also criticised the lack of communication between the HSE, schools and the Department of Education when it comes to providing support for children with autism. “As a parent, you are trying to fill in all these blanks for them. You feel you’re running around trying to do everyone’s job for them.”

The back to school handbooks can be downloaded for free at AsIAm.ie