5 Ideas for Supporting Students With Autism in High School

With less than three weeks left of Term 4, the end of the year is truly nigh. Which means Gilbert only has a few more weeks left of primary school and only a couple of months before he moves to high school.

I really wish I could still be in denial about this. However, with his orientation day scheduled for next week and book lists, uniform requirements and school fees starting to come in, we can no longer ignore the inevitable.

High school is here.

It’s not like I’ve been living with my head in the sand.  I’ve documented our challenges moving to high school and the strategies we have put in place to meet them in previous posts. I’ve also been honest in the amount of work we’ve put in to make this transition a success.

In the lead up to his move to high school, we’ve undertaken the following:

  • 1 x school tour
  • 1 x lesson taster day
  • 5 x 2 hour supported transition visits
  • 1 x 1 hour one-on-one session with his ISTV (vision teacher)
  • 1 x 30 minute meeting with the Head Teacher Student Support
  • 1 x 30 minute meeting with the Deputy Principal
  • Informal meetings with the year advisor, learning support teachers and special education advisor

And we’re not finished yet. Next week he’ll attend the Year 7 orientation day (a full day at the high school), with the possibility of more one-on-one sessions over the coming weeks, if required.

It’s been a massive undertaking and has involved input and support from many stakeholders over the course of the last 18 months:

  • Input from his current teacher, principal and learning support teacher to inform funding and transition needs
  • Input from his ISTV (vision teacher) to identify his vision requirements
  • Advice from ASPECT to identify and address concerns with his autism diagnosis
  • Advice from Guide Dogs in relation to orientation and mobility issues with his vision
  • Advice from his speech therapist, occupational therapist and psychologist for his communication, self-regulation and anxiety requirements
  • Input from the high school to arrange transition visits, meetings, funding and understanding of his needs.

There is so much I have yet to share but today I wanted to focus on the advice we’ve received from ASPECT in relation to Gilberts’s autism and his transition needs.

I attended an ASPECT Positive Partnerships workshop back in August which helped me concentrate on the main areas of concern (his ability to organise himself and deal with the transition itself). It prompted me to request a meeting with the high school and it’s helped me ask for assistance and consideration that I would not have otherwise requested.

One big positive was having an ASPECT outreach clinician come to both the primary school and high school over the last few months, to observe Gilbert and suggest ways he can be better supported in the transition process.

Overall, the clinician was pleased with everything we had already put in place to assist Gilbert. He was impressed with the care and understanding shown by both the primary and secondary school towards him and didn’t have too many suggestions to add for improvement.

It was a relief to know we are on the right track and to hear his positive words about Gilbert’s current and future school settings. As a parent, you always worry if you have done the right thing or made the best decision. It’s such a relief to know that others, with an objective view of the situation, think that all is okay!

While ASPECT didn’t have much to add, their advice in 6 particular areas was invaluable and I wanted to share it here so you might be able to benefit too.

5 Ideas for Supporting Students With Autism in High School

5 ideas for supporting students with autism at high school - www.myhometruths.com

Establish a positive working relationship between all teachers and the student

It’s important to keep in mind the value of establishing a positive working relationship with the student that focuses on their strengths and interests. Teachers should take the time to get to know what the student is motivated by (and interested in) and seek out brief opportunities to raise these topics of interest with them.

Making the time and effort to better engage the student will help create an emotional environment where they feel safe and can trust the adults around them. Feeling more comfortable and secure at school will encourage the student to give their best at school and help them relate better to all staff.

A tool that can be used to find out more about the student is to create a Learner Profile or a One Page Profile outlining key elements that comprise the student’s personality and preferences. This can be shared between staff who will be working with the student. As an example, the profile might contain the student’s answers to the following questions:

1) What is important to you?

2) What do people like about you?

3) How can we best support you?

Having this information close at hand will help teachers better engage with students on the autism spectrum and build trust and engagement in the student as well.

Create content and clear timetables to engage visual learners

Students on the autism spectrum are better at processing information visually. On average, 90% of the information they process in a day is visual, compared with around 10% coming in via aural processing (hearing). This is why visual timetables, routine charts and visual communication work well with many spectrum kids.

Given this clear preference, it’s important to consider how information is being presented to students in the classroom. The focus should be on delivering information visually for students on the autism spectrum. Rather than projects and lesson instructions simply being delivered verbally, there should always be a visual accompaniment (such as a handout) for students on the spectrum, to allow them to best process and understand what is involved.

Providing a summary of the lesson at the beginning of the class (highlighting the important points to be discussed) is another effective way to engage students on the spectrum. This allows them to follow what is being taught by reading along, without having to rely on their auditory processing skills or struggle with their fine motor skills by having to write it all down during the lesson.

Creating clear timetables that visually engage the student will help them to best process the routines and expectations of the school week. Visually engaging strategies such as a clear presentation of timetabled sessions, colour coordination where possible and a calendar of events will help engage highly visual learners and encourage them to be organised and prepared.

Provide organisation and executive functioning supports

Most students on the autism spectrum have difficulty with organisation. It can be hard for them to manage their time, organise their textbooks and resources, read their timetable so they know where they need to be and when, break down tasks and prioritise their work.

Executive functioning supports, such as the following, can help students on the spectrum learn to become more organised:

  • provide consistent templates to breakdown and scaffold projects and assessment tasks so the student knows what to expect (and what to do) each time they receive a task
  • colour code timetables, subjects and textbooks to make it easier to identify the resources that belong to a particular subject so the student can stay organised
  • explicitly teach study and research strategies related to classroom tasks so the student knows what they have to do and why they have to do it
  • explicity teach the student how to organise their classroom resources so they can learn to keep their work organised themselves
  • explicitly teach the student how to manage their time when it comes to the completion of homework tasks so they know how much time to spend on each part of the task

Students on the spectrum require specific and explicit instruction in order to stay on top of their work. If they are not given clear instructions, they won’t know where to start and may become too overwhelmed to even begin a task. Providing them with these tools can help them better manage their work and their time and prevent them from feeling overwhelmed with the weight of everything they need to do.

Consider strategies to help students better regulate their emotions

Emotional regulation can be challenging for students on the autism spectrum and issues with self-regulating emotions may be exacerbated during periods of transition, such as the move to high school. It doesn’t help that this period coincides with puberty, changing hormones and changing expectations of responsibility and workload, as students grow older and more independent.

Identifying strategies that can help students self-regulate their emotions is vital to support them during this time of transition. Helping them to understand how they are feeling and recognise the strategies they can use to regulate their emotional response to situations at school, is an important way to help them build this skill.

Resources like The Zones of Regulation and The Incredible 5 Point Scale can be used to help build emotional regulation skills. These tools help the student recognise how they are feeling via a colour or number code. Strategies to help manage this feeling (and their reaction to it) can be implemented and practiced with the student prior to commencing high school. This way, they will know what they can do to help themselves better regulate their emotions in the high school setting.

Initiate clear communication between home and school

It’s so important to maintain clear communication between home and school. The school should engage in a regular dialogue with the student’s family so their goals (both personal and academic) can be consistently worked on, both at home and at school.

Communication is a two way street. The method of communication should be decided upon after consultation with family and any other professionals the student is engaged with. Communication should be regular, honest and constructive.

At a minimum, a designated school representative should be nominated to be the first point of contact for parents or professionals looking to assist the student. Online portals, communication books/folders, face-to-face meetings and telephone catchups are just some of the ways communication can be conducted between the nominated school representative and the student’s family.

It’s important that a means of communication is decided upon and an escalation process is put in place should there be the need for urgent conversation between the school and home.

5 ideas to support students with autism at high school - www.myhometruths.com

So there are the 5 ideas I received from ASPECT in order to help Gilbert with the high school transition process. I’d love to hear if you’ve guided your child through the early high school years.

Do you have any extra tips to share?

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15 Responses

  1. I can only imagine how apprehensive you must all be with such big change on the horizon. This guide will be so very useful to so many parents. x

  2. This is a great post, Kirsty, with heaps of useful and practical information. It’s so good to hear that you have such great support in place. On a related note, do you know if ASPECT does any work with older people on the spectrum, say young adults, and help with work.apprenticeships? My brother is 24, and the lack of help he’s had while trying to do his apprenticeship has caused both he and my Mum no end of heartache. It also doesn’t help that he had a late diagnosis and so many of the things that would have been a great help to him while at high school never happened and it has left him behind now that he is older. The organisation thing is big for him, his time management skills are non-existent and this has caused big problems for him, and Mum has struggled to find people who understand his struggles and that can help with implementing strategies. It doesn’t help that he works in a very macho environment with people who have very little understanding of autism and don’t care to understand. Nova Employment are supposed to help but have been useless and I just know that if he had someone who was able to help him with a lot of the things you’ve outlined above in regards to his study and work he would be so much happier, and his bosses happier for it too. Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated 🙂
    #teamIBOT
    Kylie Purtell recently posted..My first child is starting school next year! {a guest post by Denyse Whelan} | IBOT

    • Seana Smith says:

      Hi Kylie, helo, my son is 19 and has really struggled since he left school last year. I had heard that Nova were very good, maybe you should go straight to the top there, I have met their boss and he is really inspiring. Push for better services!

      ASPECT has an employment support section, have a look at the website, it’s called Aspect Capable:
      https://www.autismspectrum.org.au/aspectcapable

      Has your mum or brother looked at the website I helped write for Aspect: http://www.autismlaunchpad.org.au ??

    • Seana Smith says:

      Hi Kylie, this is such a great comprehensive post. For my son, we had a meeting with all the teachers he was going to have and I had written a one-pager for all of them. The school has good support emotionally and it was very small. C was never able to keep up academically which didn’t really worry him, luckily. Years 9 and 10 were better as he chose simple subjects and stayed in the lower ability groups. The best thing we did was move him to a public school for the last two years, he did simple subjects with no exams, mainly, much better.
      Seana Smith recently posted..The Coffee Playground – Sydney Cafes With Play Areas

    • Kirsty says:

      I’m not familiar with the services available for adults on the spectrum but you can check out my autism resources page for links to a range of organisations. ASPECT do have some programs in place – it would be best to give them a call and discuss your brother’s needs. The I CAN network is another one to check out – they may have more information to help your brother and your mum. I really hope you can find the help he needs so he can truly thrive x

  3. Deborah says:

    One of my school friend’s sons has autism and he’s just finished year 12. I don’t think he required significant support but she did a lot of investigating before deciding where to send him and chose a local Catholic School. (She’s a teacher’s aide so knows the local schools pretty well.)

    She’s really proud that he’s finished school and I think he got to do some really practical stuff in his final years to help him with the job search and I know she was looking at options for them to pursue now he’s finished school.
    Deborah recently posted..Taking stock – December 2016

    • Kirsty says:

      That transition post-school will be the next big transition for us….really not looking forward to that one but I’m hoping we can give him the skills he needs over the coming years.

  4. That’s a really good transition plan! I’m impressed. ASPECT is pretty damn good in terms of supporting kids. With the emotion regulation, these days I’m noticing more and more kids having that problem and they don’t need to have an ASD. I’m definitely bookmarking your posts to recommend to clients.

  5. You’re a great Mum Kirsty! As a Mum to an aspie boy, I do understand much (but of course not all as all situations are different) of what is involved in these transitions. I know your apprehension and anxiety around this but I can tell you they do adjust and it will all work out. Good and regular communication between parents and relevant teachers is key! All the very best of luck to you and Gilbert! xo #TeamLovinLife

    • Kirsty says:

      Thanks so much Min!!! It’s a relief to hear from others who have already lived it and have come out the other side. I’m not sure who’s more nervous about the upcoming move – me or Gilbert!

  6. This is so good. The ability to take control and do everything possible to transition “smoothly”. I do that in quote marks because it may never actually be smooth .. but comparatively speaking.
    This post is going to help so many people and is also a great guide for non Aspie families who have children with anxieties in general.
    Thanks for sharing.
    #TeamLovinLife

    • Kirsty says:

      Thanks for the awesome feedback Leanne. All I can hope for now is that we have smoothed the way for our boy as much as we possibly can. All we can do now is wait until he starts (the waiting is definitely the worst part!)

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