Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Autism is scary enough without the malice of bullying

The National Autistic Society (NAS) is running a campaign on autism which is making the headlines today with a report on bullying and autism.

I have a son who is has been diagnosed as having Autistic Spectrum Disorder and bullying is my major fear for him in the future. ( Not that his class mates aren't wonderful at his primary school.) But secondary school is a jungle with far to many opportunities for bullying to take place. A bit of awareness from staff, and pupils, goes a very long way (especially in helping those like my son with little social self awareness)- which is why the NAS are right to insist that all school teachers should have some training on autism. ( Its almost 1-100 kids right now, so each primary school teacher could expect to receive an autistic child once every 3 years, roughly.)

Autism is a puzzling condition. This morning as we walked to school a girl of his age walked beside him for the last 5 mins ( he's not bad looking ) and tried to get his attention, but my son was in a world of his own and just didn't see all the many small signals that someone gives out when they want to attract attention, like walking 1 Ft away by his side and following him. He didn't ignore her, in his mind he didn't see her.

Its time for his annual review for his statement soon. So I asked him what he didn't like about school and his answer was assemblies, as everyone shouts and makes a noise. But what he can't say is why he doesn't like them. Its not that its too loud - I'm always asking him to turn the volume down on the TV and computer. Its my estimation that its something about trying to listen to too many voices - which many of us can chose to ignore, but he can't ( an irony given the earlier paragraph ).

One of the best things we can all do to help autistic children is to realise they exist, and that some people may think in a way that really is alien to us. I hope its much harder to bully someone when you understand them and can to some degree empathise with them with that knowledge.

The NAS campaign deserves support.

There is also going to be a programme on Channel 5 on Sunday 26th Nov - which shows the life of a autistic girl. It promises to be intresting and might be a good introduction on the subject.

Update: That TV programme was absolutely fantastic, and spot on. I wish I'd been able to record it.


Maddy said...

Great post! Cheers. confirms that we're just as bad off out here as back there. Best wishes and Happy Thanksgiving for tomorrow!

Sir-C4' said...

I myself suffer from a form of autism, so I know what it is like for your son.

Jeff said...

I have just tagged you on the ten things you would never do, sorry

Anonymous said...

One of my extended family has Aspergers which is part of the autism spectrum. He was not diagnosed until quite late in adulthood, and he was bullied at school and has been to some extent in the work place too being quite gullible and easily lead.

A more loving and loyal man I have not met. I really sympathise with what you say.

Anonymous said...

I do not agree about special training for teachers in public education. Teachers must cope with all manner of difficult situations and are constantly challenged by a variety of behaviours due to a variety of causes.

It is slightly ludicrous to expect mainstream schools to encompass quite exceptional needs.

Sorry, but if the teacher spends more time with your son, he or she is going to be neglecting others.

What is needed, I think, is a more holistic approach to education along the lines of the Steiner or Montessori models and most certainly with a spiritual element, combined with good early diagnosis.

Both of my kids were diagnosed with dyslexia and even the provision of sympathetic independent education did not prevent them from suffering the indiginity and damage caused by them having to aspire to conventional educational expectations.

Even with an esoteric education, sooner or later everyone has to face the real world and I think early diagnosis is the key - those that cannot cope should be offered alternatives in special establishments.

As someone who worked with Asperger's adults in a secure unit, the most common overall problem was considered to be late diagnosis and treatment, often long after the individual in question had caused mayhem and been imprisoned.

Man in a Shed said...

The issue is that Autism is common - why is another discussion that doesn't have a clear conclusion yet.

Training for Teachers can help with small things. I'll give you an example:

My son's teacher used to say "Will you come over here now ?" [ meaning come here now as an instruction ]. He would think for a second and say no - as what he understood was that it was an open question - not an instruction.

Initially the teacher thought he was being disobedient. But in fact he had take what she said at its literal level. When she realised this - the problem was resolved.

Through the statement of special educational needs he has a teaching assistant there to help him to understand what is being said and to focus - despite the distractions.

I have some sympathy with your comments on the style of education. Primary education has become very feminised with lots of little projects, colour and distractions in the class room. I suspect a more formal system benefited those who are now challenged by what is going on.

The point about diagnosis is a good one - as it changes peoples understanding of the individual. Which is also my point.

If people understand what Autism is and how it can impact on people then people will know how to adjust when dealing with a autistic person.

From the wider interests of the state - inclusion in a class is much cheaper. So teachers are going to see many autistic pupils in their careers and really need to be give opportunities to improve their professional skills in this area.

Anonymous said...

I hope your son gets good support from his school. My eldest son is dyspraxic and he struggled considerably, but is ok now.

I can understand why your boy doesn't like loud school assemblies. The lessons kids learn in the playground are often the toughest and hardest, I wish your son well.