Much of what we know about autism is weighted towards males – Sharonne Horlock, SENCO at Impington Village College, shares advice to help teachers meet the needs of young females with ASD…
Diagnosis, at least for some professionals, remains synonymous with labelling in a negative sense. Labelling is not a disaster. It does not limit the potential of an individual. Not understanding who you are, not knowing why you sense a difference about yourself, not being able to effectively interact, not being able to self-advocate, not being able to like yourself – this is an unacceptable reality for far too many young people. Diagnosis as a label informs and describes. It is, and should be, a scrutiny of strengths and weaknesses. So, as a SENCO, what can you do to ensure you are meeting the need of girls, as well as boys, with an autistic spectrum condition – diagnosed or not?
Talk vociferously, be proactive and make certain that girls with Asperger syndrome and autism are on the agenda. Have those challenging conversations that question the lack of diagnosis, recognition and understanding. Use your position. Research and gather evidence. Be loud, be persuasive.
Endorse student voice
Encourage students to explore disabilities to improve their understanding and ability to accept and support difference. Where possible, our students with autism spectrum conditions are encouraged to talk about how their diagnosis affects them. This may involve leading a tutor session, planning an activity that is delivered by an adult or creating a PowerPoint presentation that describes personal strengths, weaknesses and hopes and fears for the future.
The participation and support of parents, carers and families is essential to develop effective working relationships. The key to effective participation is to provide a variety of opportunities. Throughout the academic year we run parent forums, termly teas, a yearly BBQ and parent participation groups. The whole family, including siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and family friends, is welcome. Additionally, parents, carers and students can communicate regularly as our open-door policy means worries can be dealt with as soon as they arise. Students are actively encouraged to self-advocate.
Effective support around transition is essential and depends on individual need. We encourage visits from families and pupils as early as possible. Invitations to attend the annual reviews for any students considering a placement at the school are accepted. It does not matter if the young people do not eventually join the school community. Every child is contacted and visited at his or her primary school to gather information and to ensure that the child will recognise a familiar face when he or she starts at our school. Contact is made with all relevant outside professionals to encourage a joined-up, planned approach to support.
Networking takes time and considerable effort but can be momentous. Candid conversations and collaborative working can lead to a more effective ability to identify the gaps and ensure that work around specific issues such as developing life skills and appropriate educational support is fully planned for, monitored and reviewed.
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