According to Autism Spectrum Australia, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects one in 100 Aussies, which is almost 230,000 people. What’s more, Autism affects almost four times as many boys than girls.
But the statistics don’t tell the full story about the ways and degree to which ASD children might be affected. Behaviours within the ASD diagnostic ‘net’ exist on a range. It’s an Autism spectrum and children can move on and off it as they grow and develop.
The word spectrum is used to reflect a very large scope of behaviours, from extreme difficulties communicating (both verbally and non-verbally) to limited social interactions, repetitive actions, and sensory sensitivity.
Below we asked Clare Stewart, Centre Manager at Acre Woods Roseville, to talk to us about how her and her team approaches ASD children within the centre.
What is the general process if and when you think a child is showing signs of Autism?
We would begin by making observations and notes on behaviour or actions that are causing us concern. I would have a discussion with all educators who have knowledge of this child.
After our team meeting I would have a discussion with the child’s family to get an idea of how they feel about the behaviours or our concerns. Normally they have had the same worries and are relieved that we have brought it up.
We would then get the family’s permission to call our inclusion support person in to observe the child and give us some input on how best to move forward. If necessary, we would suggest that the child be seen by a paediatrician for guidance and potential diagnosis. We cannot get funding for a support educator without a diagnosis.
How do you and your team go about enriching the learning experience of ASD children?
Each child is different so we would follow their interests, as we do with all others, and then cater the environment or experience so they can be included. Sometimes this means giving them an opportunity to explore an activity on their own before they join the group, other times it may be they only want to watch and we try to support them in this.
We provide opportunities for ASD children to have their own space and to be able to choose when to take part or not. We may need special equipment, which our inclusion support team is able to assist with, and sometimes we can get funding to help with this. Sometimes we may need to look at the amount of lighting, noise, and visual noise we have around as this can cause meltdowns or distractions that trigger behavioural changes.
Educating families and children who will meet and interact with this child is also vital. We need as many people as possible to understand what the child is going through so they are not judged harshly or shunned due to behavioural outbreaks. We also need to have action plans to ensure other children are not at risk of being harmed by outbursts and that they are getting the attention they also need. It can be a real balancing act for all.
Guardian is in large part a social journey for small children. What are the barriers that ASD children face and how do you help them overcome these?
We aim to give ASD children as many opportunities to be included and have the same early learning experience as everyone else. After all, they are still little people who just see the world differently than the rest of us.
Do Autistic children need to go into special care?
Like any diagnosis there are varying degrees and factors that need to be considered. Many Autistic children are high achieving in many ways and can still have a well balanced, fulfilling life. Some can be educated in mainstream schools with guidance, support, and inclusion while others may not have the social or language skills to make this work and will need an environment that is better suited to their needs.
Everyone must be treated with the greatest of respect and seen as an individual. Every child’s own strengths, interests, capabilities, and needs must be taken into account. Taking the time to listen, accept, and include is the best first step.