Inclusion, Staffroom - Opinion

Do you know how to support a student with a recent autism diagnosis?

14 Sep 2022, 6:00

As a member of staff with Asperger’s Syndrome, I have first-hand experience of the kind of support that can really help, writes Harry Empsall

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 1999 at the age of four. My journey hasn’t been an easy one because along the way I have encountered ignorance and bullying.

But I was also lucky. I had the best support behind me in the way of family, friends and staff. They encouraged me to be the best I can be even when I didn’t always find it easy. That alongside my own determination meant I achieved good GCSE and A-level grades.

I now work as a personal skills assistant at my local college for young people with a wide range of difficulties that can be both physical and cognitive.

Nothing comes without its challenges however, and the hardest thing I have had to learn is not overthink the day’s events.

What does it mean when someone gets a diagnosis?

An autism spectrum disorder diagnosis has a positive and a negative side to it. Some see it as a barrier to life which it can be because it can increase anxiety.

To others the diagnosis means that you can start asking questions and accessing support through school, college and external services.

Remember, there are no two autistic people that are the same. Even if you have a set of identical twins there is only a 76 per cent chance of the second twin being autistic, and they can still have different hobbies and interests.

What support can be accessed?

For a student with ASD a GP can recommend occupational therapy (which aims to improve your ability to do daily tasks or develop skills), speech therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy. The reason for my CBT was that I struggle with anxiety and depression.

Colleges can also provide learning support in the classroom. Having learning support really helped me during education. But it also made me feel uneasy to have support as other students began to single me out for being “special”. Remember that as a member of staff.

What can you do?

It’s important to remember that a recent diagnosis of ASD can mean the young person’s specific needs are still being assessed and identified.

This means that the student and in some cases the parents can struggle to understand the condition.

With this in mind it would be good to start researching the condition so you can provide support and answers to questions the student may have.

I would also speak to the young person which would hopefully make them more comfortable and means that they would eventually begin to trust me.

I would endeavour to learn about the young person’s likes and dislikes, their hobbies and interests.

Also read carefully through the young person’s EHCP (Education Health and Care Plan) – but you should respect how they would like to be supported because it will help them to trust you.

I would also find out what had worked for the young person and the family in the past in education. I would ask what previous schools had done, what external services had been accessed and where I could improve things.

So in my role I may give students extra time to process information and most importantly reassure them when they become anxious or stressed about any impending changes.

To avoid unnecessary stress, I always try and make myself aware of upcoming routine changes so I can warn the young person well in advance. I can tell them where they need to go, at what time, on what days.

Since I’ve been working I’ve learnt so much from my colleagues on how to deal with things and sometimes how to react to things.

A great example of this is not letting things bother me so much when it isn’t anything I have control over – sudden change for instance.

Supporting young people with difficulties in the way I was supported years before is the most rewarding feeling in the world. It’s about knowing I’ve made a difference to someone’s life no matter how big or small that is.

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