I have lost count of the number of students I have taught who at some point in their first few weeks with us ask me what they have to do to be sent home.
Almost all of my students have behaviours that challenge the adults around them, most have been permanently excluded from at least one setting by the time they arrived with me. All have at some point or other during their school careers been temporarily excluded from school.
With data from the national autistic society showing that both types of exclusion are on the rise I felt I needed to write a post, explaining why exclusion does not work as a sanction for young people on the spectrum.
Most children with autism find school challenging for at least some of their school career.
Schools are noisy, they are busy and they are often unpredictable. Add to that the fact that they are rife with demands (something students with PDA particularly struggle with) and it’s no surprise that home seems like a good option.
It is also no surprise that those who find school the most difficult, often exhibit the most challenging behaviours.
Their anxiety is heightened as they desperately try to escape from a system often ill suited to meet their needs.
Instead however of working with the student to reduce their anxieties, or indeed of looking inwardly at the school to see what could be done to help a student become successful all too often exclusion is seen as the answer. Parents are called to collect a child, or asked to keep them at home the following day.
It isn’t long before students connect that challenging behaviour results in an escape from school back to the sanctuary of home.
And therefore it isn’t any surprise that exclusions often result in a decline in behaviour. Students have found the magic key. The guaranteed way to get home when they need to.
So when my students, ask me the question, I tell them simply, “nothing”. No matter what behaviours they exhibit, we will not exclude. We will not send them home.
In the early days students needed to test this out for themselves, convinced they would find a way of breaking our conviction to keep them in school. Now, the older ones do the job for us as they reel off a list of things that students have tried to get sent home, yet have still remained in school.
Once students realise we will not send them home, behaviour often dramatically improves.
Students are less anxious as they know that no matter what they will be in school for the day. And we know that if a student becomes distressed it’s because of something outside of their control – not a learned behaviour to escape a difficult situation.
This doesn’t mean I’m totally against exclusion.
The reality is there are times it’s needed. Sometimes a student exhibits behaviours which are so extreme that changes are needed to be made to the school environment in order to make it safe for them to return.
Perhaps higher staffing levels are needed, a breakout area needs to be created, or staff need to seek advice from more experienced or specialist colleagues on how to make the environment one the student can cope in.
In these cases it’s understandable and often best for the student, the family and the school if a short break away from an environment which is not working is taken. The key is that the exclusion period should be used as a time to make that environment work – or to find another one that will.
It should not be seen as a punishment for the child, but as a chance for the school to take positive action.
And this should and must be explained to both students and their parents.
A positive plan should then be made for their return which involves all three parties. Suggestions for strategies to help this go smoothly can be found here.
The reality is that exclusion purely as a consequence is at best ineffective and at worst extremely detrimental. Yet it remains the policy of choice by so many schools.
It’s time for change.
Our children deserve it.
Read our post about how to ensure a successful reintegration of students with autism after a period of exclusion or school refusal.
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.
Join our tribe below to receive a free post exclusion strategies checklist.
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.