It is that time of year again when children with autism begin to realise that they are coming to the end of their school holidays and will soon have to return to school. Children in Scotland have already returned to school.
We talk a great deal about the importance of transitions for children and adults these days but do we fully understand how difficult the transition from one classroom to another can be for a child with autism? Do we have any idea just how much they have to alter their sensory scripts in addition to their scripted performance, before they can even begin to feel comfortable enough to learn in a new classroom?
It is not just the classroom that they have to become familiar with although that in itself is a big issue for a child with autism. What does the classroom look like? Where will they be sitting? Are there things inside of the classroom that might jangle their senses and make it difficult for them to learn?
They also have a new teacher to contend with. What does their new teacher look like? What do they sound like? What do they smell like and will they wear clothes with a colour that a child might either become fixated on or hate? Who will be their new learning support assistant, if they have one? All of the sensory issues which apply to a teacher apply to a learning support assistant to.
Then there is the unfamiliar fixtures and fittings in the new classroom. Will their new chair squeak? Will their desk rattle? Do the lights buzz? Is the carpet scratchy when you sit on it? Will the child they sit next to do things that increase the risk of a sensory overload?
Everything above can impact on a child's ability to learn. Everything on this list is something that has to be added to child with autism's sensory script.
A child does not only change their classroom. Where they hang their coat in the cloakroom changes. Where They sit in the hall for assembly changes. Where they sit in the dinning hall to eat their lunch changes.
Although a child may be doing all of these things in the same cloakroom, school hall and dinning hall the change of place where they hang, sit or eat will still alter the child's sensory profile significantly. They have a whole new sensory script to learn.
It can take weeks for a child to remember their new script and to learn how to cope with it. Schools often believe that a few photographs of a new classroom and a couple of meet ups with a new teacher means that the they have ticked all of the boxes for a successful transition. A sucessful transition can take weeks to accomplish, and even then it will only be possible to succeed if the child has the understanding and support of their class teacher, learning support assistant and dare I say classmates.
Most of us now know just how much sensory issues impact on the lives of our children. Schools still have a long way to go in their understanding of sensory issues and how they can impact on a disabled child's ability to learn.
No wonder some of our children explode through the school gates and into our homes. No wonder they need to retreat to their rooms with a familiar DVD or book to help them to soothe their jangling senses. No wonder they cannot answer our questions about their day and how they are feeling. When all of your senses are jangling it can seriously affect your ability to communicate.
Going into a new classroom with a new teacher can be difficult for every child. But when you add all of the sensory scripting that a child with autism has to add to the things they are expected to learn each day, it is not surprising that many of our children suffer from anxiety and stress on a daily basis, day in and day out.
I just wish that teacher training about autism included them having to spend one day in an environment that was alien to them where their senses were tested to the limit. Maybe then we would see the level of understanding and support that children with autism require to enable them to both enjoy and achieve being given to them.
And yes I do know that we have some very good teachers who do understand. I would like to thank those teachers from the bottom of my heart.