The sad truth is that for students with autism, spending time out of school is more likely than for their neurotypical peers.
Schools are busy places, full of rules and restrictions, students need to deal with group work, bustling corridors and peers and teachers who don’t always understand them. And that’s even before they have to contend with the challenges of a curriculum which isn’t designed for differences.
It therefore isn’t surprising that this is an environment which many find challenging. And one which, at its most difficult, provokes a flight or fight response.
Whether a child is returning to the school environment after an exclusion (either temporary or permanent) or after a period of school refusal it is essential that the school puts steps in place to assist the student in reintegrating as smoothly as possible.
Work As A Team
First and foremost it is essential that parents and teachers work together. Open and frank communication between both parties is the best route to achieving stress. It is absolutely essential that parents are treated as equal parties in all decision making. After all, it is they who know their child the best and they who need to deal with the fall out from any decisions made. If a parent is totally onboard it will also be much easier for them to explain the reasons behind any decisions to their child in a way that is both convincing and meaningful.
Complete An Analysis Of A Student’s Anxieties And Triggers
If a student has behaved in a way which has resulted in exclusion or has felt unable to walk though the door of school, it is highly probably that anxiety rather than wilful disobedience is at the route of the problem. Open dialogue between the student, parents and school staff is the best way to assess exactly what the problem is. It is critical that the student feels listened to. If they are unable to verbalise their worries in a group situation, they should be encouraged to write them or dictate them to a trusted adult.
Once a comprehensive analysis of what cause the student anxiety has been compiled, a discussion about how these anxieties can be relieved is critical. Sometimes small things like allowing a student to use a different entrance or giving them a way out by providing somewhere they can go if things get too much can make a massive difference. Key to this is ensuring that the student knows that school staff care enough to try to make this placement work.
A Fresh Start
Whilst particularly in the case of exclusion, especially if physical violence has been involved, emotions of staff involved can run high it is critical that the return is seen as a fresh start. Positivity from all involved is absolutely key to success. Any meetings should focus on ensuring success for the student in the future rather than on what has gone wrong in the past.
It is highly likely that if a student’s behaviours have become out of control, it is because they have been in a situation where they have been unable to control their emotions. Therefore focusing on giving students strategies to recognise their emotions (e.g. through the use of the Five Point Scale or Zones of Regulation) will be far more successful than talking about sanctions if the behaviours reoccur.
A Home Visit
For some students a home visit by a trusted member of staff can prove very important in showing them that school does indeed want them to return. Walking back into a building when you have been absent for a significant period is daunting, and ensuring that some contact is retained can be critical to ensure a student is unable to walk through the door when they are able to return.
Returning to school after a break can be very challenging for many children, but can be especially difficult for students with autism. It is likely that you will need to reduce demands initially. For some students this will involve substantial changes to their timetable, for others it may involve allowing them to start the school day earlier or later.
Sitting down with parents and the student prior to their return to discuss how this will work in practice is key. Looking at the timetable to identify possible triggers and building in regular sensory breaks will help students to adapt back into the school routine.
Remember Reward Schemes
Remember that reward schemes are important. Ensure that you show the student that you recognise how hard School is for them and give them the recognition they deserve when things go right. More information about why reward schemes are so important and the different ways they should be implemented for students with autism can be found here
Read our post about avoiding school refusal for those at risk, implementing the strategies given will help to keep the student in school once they return.
Our online autism courses are also a great place to learn more.
Join our Facebook group which is full of parents and teachers working together to share strategies to help children with autism.
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If you have any further questions or need me to elaborate on anything above please do drop me an email and I’ll be happy to help.