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Our cohorts of learners with autism increase year on year. We believe it is vitally important for all learners to identify what works best for each individual, maximising their inclusion and unique attainment potential through person-centred approaches.
How we achieve this for learners with autism is best evidenced by sharing the stories of Abdullah and Barry, two learners integrated into the ‘creative and performing arts’ environments. Typically, at first the learners demonstrated their sense of ‘lost-ness’ through disengagement, gesturing and non-communicative behaviours. The staff concentrated on finding interest triggers focusing on individual-related achievable activities, gradually through repetition developing a familiar space and firm structure in which they could learn. They sensitively and progressively exposed Abdullah and Barry to the positive impacts of creative settings.
Abdullah worked with a group of performance students producing a resource to develop his dance skills in a prompt book. Although he contributed little through imaginative content per se, by taking photographs of him demonstrating four key elements of dance he identified himself as the ‘image’. This lead to recognition and value within the group and helped him to create visual prompts. Abdullah progressed further, performing to external audiences in live dance pieces through mirroring other learners’ techniques; learning presentation and language skills; and working as an usher at performances in which he was not acting.
Barry is another learner involved in a project which required lengthy - and at times intense - rehearsals working to a tight deadline involving nine other actors. He found it extremely difficult to stay in one place in the wings awaiting his entrances on stage. Staff approached his need to move around and occupy the down time by agreeing a set of rules and boundaries with him, which was a culmination of guidance from staff and suggestions from him. Barry’s behaviours weren’t challenged or prohibited; rather boundaries and scope for adaptation were put in place. He was given opportunity to move around during scenes in which he wasn’t involved and clear instruction about three areas he could choose go to periodically within the theatre addressed the monotony of waiting. Barry managed this well and without disrupting others’ concentration. Rehearsals lasted all day for two days a week and establishing this pattern and routine worked for him.
As the rehearsal process continued for 10 weeks Barry stayed in his wings position for more prolonged periods. By the time the performance went on tour he stayed in situ throughout the 30 minute performance without the need to move. His parents commented he is now more relaxed and confident at home partly, they believe, through his experience working within the performance project. A member of staff who worked with Barry in a previous placement observed he is calmer and interacts with others, as well as being pleased to see her again and letting her know how happy he is.
Abdullah and Barry have unearthed their social skills at National Star College. This has enabled them to participate, make a positive contribution, gain a sense of self-worth and belonging by developing their interests and discovering realistic work opportunities to pursue in the future. This work has enriched not only the lives of our learners with autism but the many who now better understand how best to support them. We have taken a strategic approach to improving the knowledge and skills of staff through cross-college multi-disciplinary team development activities.
If you are a college and want to share your examples of good practice with learners with autism, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org