We have all heard of #thedress, right? The dress pictured above caused a world-wide frenzy when it was posted on social networking sites. Some claimed that the dress was white and gold, some (like me) were adamant that the same dress was black and blue, while some say it’s blue and gold. Some people have also claimed that they sometimes see white and gold, but can also see it as blue and black at times.
People have argued for days and eventually settled that although the dress was in fact black and blue, we all see it differently. The video below explains why:
So how is it that we can accept the fact that people see this dress differently to us, but cannot accept that other people ARE DIFFERENT FROM US?
Why is it so hard for some to accept people from different ethnicities, socioeconomic status, abilities, different sex and sexual orientations?
Isn’t the greatness of this world due to our diversity?
I know I am talking about a small proportion of society who has yet to open their eyes. I am hoping that by using a popular example such as #thedress will help them understand what I (and many others) have been talking about for years.
When it comes to teaching and parenting, one of the most talked about topics is discipline and behaviour. Most of us expect children to behave in certain ways – with respect, listen and respond appropriately, have infrequent tantrums, etc. Getting children to behave in these ways is not always easy. Even though a lot of children respond to our unique ways of disciplining, a few of them may display more challenging behaviours that are persistent and could seem uncontrollable – from theirs and your point of view. Below is a list of strategies and tips that has worked for me in schools and different settings over the years.
(It may be usefult for you to read Understanding Children’s Behaviour as well)
10. Know what the triggers are – Every behaviour is triggered by something. Find out what it is.
- Medical diagnosis (Autism, ADHD, etc.)- Please note that I am not saying that having a diagnosis is an excuse or a ticket to behave badly. What I am saying is that a diagnosis provides a signpost on what interventions you could use.
- Medication – some kids on Ritalin could become hyperactive as the medication wears off
- Sensory Stimuli such as noise, certain smells, bright or dim lighting, temperature– Some children are very sensitive to sensory stimuli and tend to react in unconventional ways when they encounter an unbearable one. If they are not able to communicate this discomfort through words, they may act out.
- Change in routine (substitute teacher/Teaching Assistant, cancelled or swapped classes)- This is not specific to children with Autism. I have encountered children with no diagnoses who were unsettled by changes in routine.
- Home life- problems and/ or changes at home
- Bullying– It is worth investigating whether your student in question is being bullied by others when you are not looking. Not all children will report bullying.
- Relationship with classmates– Investigate their relationships with other children. Are they getting enough attention, and if so, what kind of attention are they getting? If they are not getting any attention, make sure that you find out why.
9. Find out what the student’s receptive and expressive language skills are.
A lot of our behaviours are forms of communication. If children are not able to verbally express what they are feeling (see above), there is an increased chance that they would ‘act it out’. This can also happen if they do not understand what the others are telling them. Some children struggle to read body language, understand people’s tone of voice and/ or metaphors. If this is the case, you can organise for them to have lessons wherein you or other professional(s) will explicitly teach them these things.
8. Give them chances to succeed.
Give small targets that are achievable by the students. Set them up to succeed. For example, instead of asking them to ‘be quiet inside the classroom at all times’, you could start by asking them to ‘try to be quiet during carpet times’ (Primary school) or ‘try to be quiet when the teacher is talking’.
7. Give praise that is specific, well-explained and well-earned.
Never give blanket praises such as ‘good job’, ‘excellent’, ‘well done’, unless they are followed by a brief explanation of why you said what you said. Let them know why and which part of their work is amazing. You could say for example: ‘well done for colouring within the lines’ instead of ‘good work’.
6. Approach them positively.
Try not to shout and try not to be negative. Humour definitely helps. If the children understand figures of speech and metaphors, sarcasm can be an excellent tool. I found that students of any age are more likely to listen and change their behaviour if I approach them positively.
5. Tell them what to do instead of what not to do.
There are a lot of research that suggests that if you tell someone to ‘not play on the stairs’, they would. This is because what registered in that person’s brain is ‘play on the stairs’. Even though some children will hear you loud and clear, chances are, they will not know what to do instead of the undesirable behaviour. Quite a lot of teachers always tell students ‘not to fight’, but a lot of these children may only know one way to behave. If this is the case, how can they behave appropriately if you are not telling them what tappropriate behaviour is?
4. Be consistent.
You should be firm and fair all the time. Punishments and rewards should be handed out consistently – not only when you feel like it.
3. Remember that behaviour can be changed.
The whole point of your efforts trying to make your students behave appropriately relies on your belief about behaviours and attitudes. If you believe that we were born with a set of attitudes that make us behave in a certain way which cannot be changed, you need to think again. Although genetics play a part in the development of our attitudes and behaviours, the people around us and our experiences also have big contributions. We should keep in mind that everyone is capable of changing, especially our students.
2. Communicate effectively with the children’s parents/ primary carers.
For any intervention to work, the children’s school and home should work in concert with each other. Although it may be a good start, it shouldn’t be enough that your students behave really well in school but throws tantrums and go wild at home (or vice versa). Having an effective professional relationship with your students’ parents/ carers is one of the most important factors in helping children behave appropriately. Regular communications through phone calls, emails, face-to-face meetings will help increase the likelihood that interventions will be carried out in both settings.
1. Set an example.
Kids will follow and copy your actions. If you practice what you preach, then you have won half the battle. Always remember that your students are far brighter than you think. They will start ignoring your advice and you will lose their respect if you do not walk your talk. Here are a few examples you can set:
- Admit your mistakes publicly. You will make a mistake today- trust me. When you do, do not be ashamed to admit it.
- Apologise to your students. When you make mistakes, say sorry. Explicitly let them know that even you can make mistakes, but your apology and subsequent actions are what matters most.
- Respect your colleagues. Never say anything bad about your co-teachers, no matter what. Students notice how you treat other people and indirectly learn from your example.
Other bonus tips:
I have just bought this book from Waterstones today.The Reason I Jump: One Boy’s Voice from the Silence of Autism is a book written by Japanese writer Naoki Higashida, who himself has been diagnosed with Autism. Naoki wrote this book in 2005 when he was 13, and was only published last year. I have read the reviews which seem to be mixed. On the one hand, it is being praised as it shows the positive side of having Autism and the book is in-line with parents’ hopes for their children who are on the Autism Spectrum. However, some are critical as they argue that Naoki does not speak for all of those who have Autism.
I have not yet read it, but I am very excited to start. No need to ask me what my weekend plans will be!!
Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects individuals’ physical behaviour, communication and social skills. Recent figures published by Autistica stated that the UK spends £32bn a year, which is higher than heart disease (£12bn) and heart disease (£8bn). This £32 billion is a calculated fugure based on what is spent on treatment, care and support, as well as people’s loss of income as a result of being on the spectrum and/ or living with someone who has Autism. Autistica’s report also highlighted the importance of developing better interventions that are effective in order to make better use of resources that are scarce.
It should be pointed out that the figures have also revealed that there is very little money spent on Autism research compared to care. On average, only a mere £180 is spent on research for every £1 million spent on care. That is £6.60 per person spent on research. This clearly needs to change as effective interventions should be developed and evaluated as latest figures show that over 600,000 people in the UK have Autism.
I was having a discussion with a friend of mine a few days ago about basic human rights when she said that ‘for equality to work, people with Special Needs and Disabilities should be treated in exactly the same way as everyone else’. She added that, ‘this means, no special treatments, such as Teaching Assistants in schools, free and accessible parking, and/ or other perks that disabled people have’.
As offensive as this sounds, I believe that she has a point. We should not be campaigning for equality in the purest sense of the word> rather, we should be campaigning for equal opportunities, inclusion and acceptance of diversity. I have previously explained my definition of equality, and why I think it is not the same as fairness (READ HERE). I personally do not want a society where everyone is treated equally. Let me explain:
Having worn glasses for over half of my life, I do not want society to wear the exact same prescription glasses as I do just to be treated equally. Conversely, I do not want to remove my glasses when reading just because I want to be treated the same as a person with 20/20 vision. In addition, I do not want people with Autism, Dyslexia or other Specidal Educational Needs to be subjected to the exact same treatment as others without Special Needs. My point is, we are all different and we should all be treated differently. We all need help in some areas of our lives, while in some areas, we could be exeptionally good that we could teach others. Nobody should be punished just because they are though of as someone having less or more than what you have.
Readers should take note though, that I am advocating for Equal Opportunities. ‘How can that be?’, you may ask. Equal Opportunities to me, means that anyone- and I mean anyone- should be allowed to try anything and everything. If someone with SEN wishes to be educated in a mainstream school (not a special school), then so be it providing that such placement will not hinder their-and others’- development and learning. However, nobody should be ‘forced’ to study in a mainstream school just because it is seen as good practise. There are pros and cons to studying in a mainstream school, just as there are pros and cons to studying in a special school. People should be free to choose. If a same-sex couple want to get married and/ or adopt children, let them, providing that they love each other and are responsible enough for each other’s well-being.
We should embrace each other’s differences. We should offer to help those who need help, in circumstances that would allow us to. However, with all these being said, I should emphasise that respect should be given to everyone regardless of their ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, religion and psychological state.
On the ninth episode of the Autism Hangout, we discussed Autism and Employment. SOME people with special educational needs and/ or disablities often struggle with finding and maintaining work, particularly those with Autism. Due to their rigidity of thoughts, preferences for routines and familiar places and the different ways in which they communicate and socialize may not be understood by employers. This could then lead to a conflict between the employers and employees.
There are however, several steps that could be taken in order to avoid such conflicts from arising. Here are some of them:
- Train and educate employers and recruiters about Autism and its effects on individuals. Negativity towards people with Autism usually comes from people’s ignorance of Autism. Stereotypes are not always true- particulary the negative ones. By training employers and recruiters about Autism, understanding and acceptance could be increased.
- Train and educate people with Autism about job application process, particularly interviews both at home and in schools. Filling out application forms and writing CVs are hard enough even for people without any learning difficulties. Be even more patient and teach those with Autism and other learning difficulties. Provide mock interviews way before young adults leave school to allow them to practise body language, appropriate responses and dress codes.
- Companies should allow candidates to visit the job sites prior to applying for any post. In this way, any prospective applicant could observe and experience the work environment, talk to current employees, have a real sense of the job’s requirements (physical, mental and emotional). Also, carers and/ or family members should be allowed to accompany those who require assistance.
- Prospective job applicants should be aware of the Equality Act 2010 which should be adhered to by all companies.
Companies should also take the following advice into consideration:
- When placing an advertisement for any jobs, companies should explicitly emphasise specific needs for social and communication skills. This will help individuals with Autism tease-out the jobs that they could do. In addition, it avoids an unwelcomed surprise on an individual’s first day.
- When it comes to the interview stage, interviewers should be made aware of individuals’ diagnoses and the interviewer should also be someone who has experience with communicating with people with Autism.
- Interviewers should ask ‘closed’ questions (those that can be answered with a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’), and should avoid asking hypothetical questions as this may be difficult for people with Autism (particularly who are on the severe end of the spectrum) to answer. It should be noted that one of the characteristics of people with Autism is their limited (or atypical) imagination. Some find it difficult to imagine a hypothetical situation, and prefer only to think of concrete examples that have actually happened to them.
- Interviewers should also be aware that some people wth Autism may exhibit body language that may seem unusual. Interviewers are encouraged to look past these body language and focus on what the individual’s skills as a potential employee.
- It is also important to give the potential employee a lot of support before and during their employment. Give them time to think about your question (during an interview), give them specific and clear instructions, avoid metaphors, give them direct but sensitive feedback and give them a timetable.
- Most importantly, give them a chance to prove that they can actually do the job in question. Look past the Autism and I promise you, you will be amazed!
For more information and support regarding Autism and employment, visit the National Autistic Society’s website: www.autism.org.uk