Never Underestimate the Power of Silence





Young people are expected to be attentive for at least five hours of every weekday in school. Not doing so would warrant punishment- either a gentle “shhhh” or a trip to the headteacher’s office. More importantly, not paying attention could lead students to missing important information in their lessons. Twenty five hours of listening to teachers, teaching assistants and classmates is a lot of work for any child, let alone those with Special Educational Needs, particularly those with Autism.

Most people with Autism are highly sensitive to external stimuli- whether it be visual, auditory, tactile or a combination of these. Most of them experience what is called ‘sensory overload’, just by sitting in their chairs listening to their teachers. Along with their teachers’ voice, they hear (amongst other things) pencils tapping, the wind blowing, the radiator’s vibrating noise, and even their seat-mate’s breathing all in the same amplified volume. In addition, they may be irritated by the smell of the carpets/ floor, the colourful displays in the classroom and possibly by the tags on their uniforms.

Now put yourself in their position. Will you be able to cope for 5 hours a day, 25 hours a week?

This is reason why pupils with Autism need to be given some (or a lot of) quiet time at school. After completing a demanding task, allow the students to de-stress, even for just 3 minutes. If your school does not have a quiet room, let your student(s) do something that they really enjoy. For instance, build lego, colour, complete jigsaw puzzles, or whatever activity that you think they can just ‘zone-out’.

Also, there may be some days where your students have had so much to deal with at home, that they refuse to do anything in school. Again, give them some space. Give them some quiet time. However, it is important to note that some children may associate grumpiness in the morning for happy quiet time. It goes without saying that quiet times should not be given willy-nilly. It is also important to communicate with the children’s parents so that you know what happened at home and whether they needed some quiet time or not.

When they get home, do not force them to do their homeworks straight away. Again, allow them some quiet time even for just a few minutes. They have been trying to tune out so much stimuli in school, and the last thing that most of them would want is to do their homework. I understand of course, that there are a lot of students who have gotten into the routine of doing homeworks straight after school- which is great. If your children enjoys doing their homework straight after school, do not change their routine. My advice only applies if your child exhibits problem behaviour when asked to do homeworks straight away.




8 thoughts on “Never Underestimate the Power of Silence”

  1. I am tempted to print out this post to show our local primary school staff. They are all being very supportive but this past weekend has been too much of a strain for my daughter and I am certain she was suffering from a “sensory hangover.” On Saturday she asked me if I could silence the fan inside the computer as it was annoying her so much – I hadn’t realised it was making any noise!
    She lives in such a state of heightened awareness all the time I do try to make quiet times for her, but I can see I need to do even more.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Quite a lot of what we ‘tune-out’ are heightened in the brains of most individuals with ASD. At the same time, it is very very hard for schools and households to control sensory stimuli but a lot can be done.

      I do encourage you to print this article and give it to your primary school. That’s what this website is for. If you want, you can also give them my contact details found in the ‘About the Author’ section, so I can answer any questions they may have.

      All the best!

  2. Sometimes the fluorescent lights are buzzing so loud I can’t even hear what the teacher is saying.
    Remember not to frame quiet time as a reward or a punishment but as a tool. Sometimes teachers decide that kids are not behaving well so they do not deserve quiet time, but that is silly, because quiet time can help them behave better.
    Encouraging kids to ask for breaks when they need them can help teach self-monitoring, self advocacy/independence, and communication skills.

    1. I agree. There are teachers who are so used to teaching students without Special Needs who think that those with SEN (particularly those with Autism) will respond in the same way as others do.

      Quiet time is a tool that is under-utilised in most schools as staff see it as a cop-out, or an escape, which it is not.:D

  3. This is awesome! I am aware of the sensor overload, but not for a long time… I am surprised that I know so little when I constantly try to inform myself… This doesn’t go just for Autism, this goes for everything… I think I am well educated in the subject and then comes the information that really blows my mind…

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