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Starting Paperwork in an ASD Class

For anyone reading this who has found out they will be starting in ASD class or setting in September, firstly I would like to say Congratulations. It is such an exciting journey to be on. It can of course be hard work and take a while to get your head around everything but hopefully this blog post will be somewhat helpful and point you in the right direction for more information on any points. Everything takes time and will get done in time, go at your own pace and do what feels right for the children in your care. The main priority in the first few weeks is making sure the children feel happy and start to settle into their new environment. After this, everything else will start to fall into place. For anyone who is already in an ASD class and wants some guidance on paperwork, I hope you get some tips and tricks from reading this blog post. I’m going to write this blog under the following headings, so feel free to skip to the parts that are relevant to you: Pupil Profile Folder, Toileting Records, Special Needs Assistants, Parents/Guardians, Parent Questionnaire, Home-School Communication.

Pupil Profile Folder

Paperwork can be one of the most daunting parts of the job, it seems like there is so much of it to get your head around. Start by organising and reading the children’s reports and any information you have about the children. For example: Previous Individual Education Plans (IEPs), Previous school or preschool reports, Psychologist reports, CAMHS Reports, Speech and Language reports, Occupational therapy reports, etc.

Once you have a system in place that works for you, the paperwork becomes much more manageable. What works for me, after been advised during one of the SESS courses I took, is having a ‘Pupil Profile’ ring binder folder for each child in my class. A lot of the information in these folders is sensitive and priavte information, therefore these folders do need to be locked away. We have lockable presses in our classroom for this purpose or you could use a filing cabinet or similar.  

Here is a photo of what my folder looks like:

It helps to get your head around what paperwork you have for each child and keeps it all together in one handy space for bringing to any meetings etc. about that child. The headings I use are in the photo above. I will add a little detail about each section.

1. Profile and Current I.E.P.

In this section I include any summary profiles about the student e.g. ‘Child Passport’. Their current Individual Education Plan

2. Previous I.E.P.’s

3. Assessment Reports and N.C.S.E.

I include any official assessment reports about the child from their psychologist etc. and any documents about the child from the N.C.S.E. e.g. extra SNA allocation, Bus forms.

4. Medical

Any medical information or reports about the child e.g. allergies, medicines etc.

5. Behaviour

Any behaviour related incidents, observations or forms.

6. O.T.

Any reports or recommendations from the child’s Occupational Therapist(s)

7. S.L.T.

Any reports or recommendations from the child’s Speech and Langugage Therapist(s)

8. Class Assessments and Observations

Any assessments or observations I have completed about the child e.g. preference assessments, academic assessments, class observations etc.

9. School Assessment and Reports

Any previous school documents, particularly useful if the child has been to another school/setting.

10. Parent/Guardian Correspondence

In this section, I include a parent questionnaire I send out over the summer with details about their child. I also include any correspondence with parents/guardians e.g. phone call and the topic we discussed, meeting and the subject of the meeting.

You may not need each heading for each child but these are the headings that have worked best for me over the years. Naturally some sections will have a lot more than others and some will fill up over time. In the ‘Parents Correspondence’ section, I include a form where I fill details about any phone-calls or meetings we have had and decisions we have made etc. It can be so handy to have this information to look back over. (pictured below). Again these folders are not a necessity, there are so many other ways of organising information about each child, especially electronically. Personally I like to have hard copies of some documents, some documents are sent out as hard copies and this is just what works for me.

Toileting Records

Attached below is a picture of a sample toileting record I use. For different reasons, at different times, children may need their toileting recorded. Sometimes it is also helpful to have this record to show the Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO) in relation to SNA allocations, to show the children need assistance when using the toilet. If there is a child being toilet-trained in your setting you might need a more specific record, this one is just a general one for all children. I like to print lots of copies to have them ready so I am not photocopying every week. We put ours on a clipboard, hang it on the door to the toilet and Velcro a pen to the record so we can quickly and easily fill it in.

Special Needs Assistants (SNAs)

The SNAs in your class will become like your family. I was so lucky in my first year working in as ASD class to be working with two amazing SNAs. They really showed me the ropes and guided me. It really helped that they had worked with some of the children before so they were invaluable in knowing what worked for some children equally as important, what didn’t work!

Building a good relationship with the SNAs you are working with is so important, you will be working together everyday. It is amazing to have a support like this. The best advice I could give is to have open communication, if you are trying something new or introducing something new, running it by them and asking their opinions is so beneficial, 3 heads are better than one! It also ensures everyone is on the same page and knows what is happening in the classroom.

Having a daily timetable for the SNAs you are working with is helpful, this way everyone knows what they should be doing and when. You could type one up, write it down, have a whiteboard in the room to write notes etc. whatever works best in your situation. I have found it so beneficial to have a quick 10 minute meeting at the beginning of the day to discuss anything that is happening that day, any changes to break times and any messages the parents have sent in e.g. how a child has slept, anything that happened the day before. This ensures there is open communication, everyone is on the same page and knows what is happening for the day ahead. We also have a quick 10 minute meeting at the end of the school day to discuss anything that went well, not so well, things we could improve or different things we could try in future. The SNAs fill out Care Notes for the children at this time and we fill out any observations or behavioural notes that we didn’t get to during the day. I use this time to send messages to the parents about the child’s day. When we do these tasks together it makes sure we can remind each other of different things that happened during the day that might otherwise slip your mind. These short meetings at the start and the end of the day work so well in keeping open communication and running the classroom.

Parents/Guardians

Building a positive and open relationship with the parents/guardians you will be working with is so important to help benefit the child in your care.

Utilise the children’s parents/guardians of the children you will be working with. They will have so much knowledge about their child. Chances are they have done trial and error on lots of different strategies or approaches at home or in another setting the child has been in. To hear what works well and what doesn’t work well for their child is such invaluable information and could save you a lot of time trying out different things.

Parent Questionnaire

In June or over the summer months before the new school year, I like to send home a Parent Questionnaire to ask the parents to fill in much needed information about their children, things they are able to do, things they like/dislike, goals they are working on or would like to work on. I find this so beneficial to read through when planning the classroom and resources for the new school year. For example you may find out that one child is noise sensitive and another child in your class makes loud noises when they are upset so you might ensure they are not seated beside each-other on the first day and you might purchase a pair of headphones to have in your class.

Sample of the questionnaire below:

Home-School-Communication

There are different ways of doing this. Some people like ‘Home Communication Diaries’, you could use an empty notebook or buy purpose made ones. I will attach some photos here. Some classes create their own ‘tick sheets’ (below)

Here is a link to the website that created ‘The Communication Diary’ shown above. If you contact them, they might send you out a sample copy to see if it is suitable for your setting.

https://4schools.examcraftgroup.ie/product/communication-diary

More recently a lot of classes have moved towards an online platform. ‘Seesaw’ is a very popular one, I hope to begin using it with my own class in September. I think it could be useful particularly if part of our role could be home learning. Here is a link to their website if you would like more information:

https://web.seesaw.me/


That is a lot of information to take in, I feel like I could write an individual post on each topic covered here. I hope it has been helpful in some way to someone.

If you are interested in any of the resources mentioned, have a look on my shop:

If you have any questions, please email me on autism.corner365@gmail.com or message me on Instagram @autism_corner_

I would love to hear from you.

Mo

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TEACCH Autism Program: Structuring the Environment, Schedules and Work Systems.

I love the TEACCH Autism Program. It is a program I use every day. I completed the comprehensive course a few years ago when I was starting to work in an Autism Class in a mainstream school. Since then I have also worked as a Special Educational Teacher and have seen the benefits of using the TEACCH approaches for students I have been working with in both settings.

TEACCH stands for ‘Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children’. The TEACCH Autism Program was founded in the University of North Carolina, America. I completed in the training through the SESS (Special Education Support Service). You need to register and complete the 2 Day Introductory TEACCH Course first and then you can register for the 5 Day TEACCH Course with the SESS. Both courses can be difficult to get a place on but they are without a doubt the most beneficial courses I have done to date about teaching in a class for children with Autism. During the 5 Day TEACCH Course, 4/5 children of varying needs and abilities are brought in from local schools. A mini classroom area is set up to suit that child to showcase how the different components of TEACCH work and can be used with different children. The children spend the week in this classroom instead of going to school. There is an application form sent to local schools and parents ahead of the course. Here is a link to a calendar of SESS run courses:

https://www.sess.ie/professional-development/calendar/asd

Currently all courses are postponed. If you would like to know more about TEACCH in the meantime, their website has both free and paid online learning courses:

Online Learning Opportunities

Structured ‘TEACCHing’

Some of the main components of the TEACCH Autism Program are: Structure in the Environment, Schedules and Work Systems.  

Structure in the Environment

The structure of the learning environment is the foundation of the TEACCH program. If you can visit other classrooms to see the way they have laid out their rooms it is very beneficial to get some ideas for your own class. There is no set template for setting up your classroom, it depends completely on your own resources and the needs/interests of the children in your class. The TEACCH program involves dividing the room into different areas helps to give meaningful context and a purpose to each area for the children. Examples of areas that could be in your classroom depending on the students’ needs and interests are: lunch, group-work, leisure, play, reading, sensory. I have included some images below of the layout of my classroom and some ideas from Pinterest posts to show some ideas of layouts.

Important points to consider when deciding the layout of the class are: boundaries and distractions.

What will you use as boundaries? I find physical boundaries work best when you are starting out. You could use purpose-made partitions or natural boundaries e.g. bookshelves. Some classes use tape on the ground for children who are used to boundaries or for higher functioning children.

Which areas need distractions to be limited? I try to limit distractions in any areas the children will be completing work e.g. teacher 1:1 work area, group table work area, independent work area. This can be done by ensuring the area doesn’t have too much visual input e.g. posters or displays. Or that it isn’t near a window or door which leads to a noisy area.

Schedules

Schedules are without a doubt my favourite component of the TEACCH Autism Program. Mainly because I have seen how beneficial they are to the children that use them. Teaching a child to use a schedule is an important life skill that helps to promote independence and help the child to navigate their way around their classroom or school building. It also prepares them for reading timetables in their environment when they are older. There are different types of schedules that are used in the TEACCH Program depending on your child’s needs and abilities. When choosing which schedule to use, Consider: ‘Can the child use it independently? (without an adult pointing or leading)’ and ‘Will it work for the child when they are stressed?’

Types of TEACCH schedules are: Object schedules, real photograph schedules, icon schedules, written list schedules and electronic list schedules. I have included examples of each schedule type in photos below. Schedules can also vary in length, depending a child’s ability/anxiety levels, for example I may only show them their schedule for part of their day from morning to break time to limit anxiety or stress about something happening later in the day or to avoid overloading the child with information to process. Starting off, a child could use a ‘First, Then’ board only and gradually move onto a longer schedule.

Work Systems

Work systems are used during tasks to give the children a clearer understanding of what they need to do. Successful work systems should answer 4 questions: 1. How much work is the student to do? 2. What activities/tasks is the student to do? 3. How does the student know when he/she is finished? 4. What will the student do next?  

There are different types of work systems that could be used depending on children’s abilities and needs. For example, left to right work system, matching work system or a written list work system.

Left to right work system: could include numbers 1 to 5 and a desired activity at the end.

Matching work system: could include images of a child’s favourite characters, they match the character to the work item (as shown in the picture) and there is a desired activity at the end.

Written List: could include times or it could include a checklist format so the child can feel a sense of achievement after completing a task.

When first introducing a work system and teaching a child how it works, I find using preferred activities and favourite characters/special interests works best. Start with one activity and build it up as the child becomes more comfortable with the structure.

I think work systems are so beneficial during small group and whole class activities as well as during independent tasks. For example, during ‘Circle Time’ I will put up the running order of the session e.g. News, Read Story, Songs, Yard. This definitely helps engagement as the children know exactly when their desired activity/song will happen, how much we will do during ‘Circle Time’, when ‘Circle Time’ will be over and what will happen afterwards. I use work systems when the children are making choices as a group, for example, song choices, I display the children’s pictures or names in order of who will choose a song next. I find the children are happier to listen to other people’s song choices when they know their turn is coming. Ensure to change the order of work systems regularly to make sure the children understand change within the structure. For example: so the child doesn’t get used to their turn always being 2nd.

In general, work systems help bring structure to an activity and develop the child’s independence. I also find work systems beneficial for reminding children of the steps in some everyday sequences they might have difficulty remembering. For example: How to wash hands, how to unpack bag.

Work systems help to bring a calm to the environment. Sometimes when we say something verbally to a child, they may not fully process it and need to ask again but when there is a visual support alongside or instead of the verbal instruction I have found that children have a better understanding of what is being asked of them.

Some other strategies that are included in the TEACCH Autism Program are Visual Structure within Activities and Routines and Strategies. TEACCH also focuses on expressive communication in children, leisure skills and social engagement, behaviour, coping skills and classroom management, preparing for the future, assessment and teaching.

Anyone working with a child with autism has the same long term goal in some form: Independence. The TEACCH Autism Program has systematic routines and strategies that help to maximise independence for the child throughout their school day. It is a program I have followed for about 5 years now and would highly recommend it to anyone working with children or young people with autism.

Thank you so much for reading this blog post, I hope this has been beneficial to you in some way. If anyone has any feedback, questions or would like to chat about it, I would love to hear from you.

Mo


If you are interested in any of the resources featured in this post, some are resources I have used in my own setting. Have a look on shop (linked below). I have posted some resources that I have found beneficial and use daily in my setting.

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Puberty & Autism

“RSE is a necessity to improve overall quality of life in adolescence and adulthood, and minimize the risk for abuse.”

Tullis and Zangrillo, 2013

I am going to start my blog posts with a topic that can be considered a complex, ‘touchy’ area for some, I know it was for me at the beginning. It is a topic that I am passionate about after teaching in an ASD class with some older boys and girls. I had no idea how to approach the topic and the mainstream Relationships Sexuality Education (RSE) curriculum was much too complex for the children I was working with. Anyone I spoke to wasn’t too sure how to advise me or wasn’t overly comfortable talking about it.

I ended up completing some amazing CPD courses about the topic, met some lovely teachers in similar positions and have been passionate about the topic since. I have complied some info and tips about how I approached the topic in the ASD class I was working in.

Where to Begin: Preparation is Key

I felt more comfortable approaching parents and other staff members about this topic with some knowledge behind me. I would definitely recommend courses with the SESS, they run a course in conjunction with Middle Centre for Autism called ‘Puberty, Relationships, Sexuality & Autism’ which is so informative and a great opportunity to meet other teachers who are planning for the same topic. If you are starting in an ASD class or setting I would recommend completing this course regardless of the age of the children. They talk a lot about how preparation is key and the benefits of teaching children about public and private from an early age.

‘RSE, Preventing Problems Before They Happen – Lynne Moxon’ run by Middletown Centre for Autism. This course was open to both professionals and parents. A lot of examples were used and a lot of situations were discussed that I wouldn’t have thought about before. Would definitely recommend attending this course if it is run again. I understand a lot of these courses unfortunately may not be run this academic year, I will be keeping an eye out for any online training that comes up.

School Policies

Definitely check your school policies about RSE or have a chat to your principal/SEN coordinator. Check if the policies are adapted to suit children with autism, particularly if you are working in a new ASD class in a mainstream school as it might need to be reviewed or updated. Ensure anything you plan to teach is in line with your school policies incase any issues were to arise. For example; child protection issues, if the parents/families have any issues or concerns.

Parents/Guardians

This is without a doubt, the most important part of the preparation. RSE and puberty are complex areas for everyone involved. Ensuring there is a partnership between home and school is essential in the effective teaching of this topic. Communication with parents is so important for a consistent approach for the child in all aspects of their education but in particular puberty and RSE. What I found worked best for our class, was letting the parents know at the beginning of the year that it will be a topic we will be covering during the year. This way they had time to think about what topics were important to them, get their own heads around it all, consider possible Individualised Education Plan (IEP) targets and do some of their own research.

I let the parents know about the Lynne Moxon RSE workshop that was being run by Middletown for both professionals and parents. A lot of parents and staff members from our class attended this together prior to beginning the topic with the children. We all found it so beneficial. When we began teaching RSE, we were able to refer back to items that were mentioned on the course. This also meant that someone else introduced all of the ‘tricky topics’ to parents so when it was time for me to bring them up, they knew the conversation was coming, any awkwardness was over and they were already aware of the benefits of the teaching the topic. There were some parents who weren’t able to attend the course. I found once some parents in the class were onboard and involved, this encouraged others to want to become involved or to find out more.

Another idea for introducing the topic to parents is having a group meeting to discuss your intentions for the RSE curriculum. In the current climate, I wonder could something like this be done over Zoom. This meeting gives you as a teacher and paraprofessionals a chance to explain everything clearly to the parents and for them to have a chat to eachother about it or ask any questions and raise any concerns in a safe environment.

Whatever way you prepare for the teaching of RSE ensuring there is open and regular communication with the parents is key for ensuring consistent approaches for the children.

Teaching Younger Children

Topics that I have taught from a younger age, in line with the curriculum are: public and private behaviours, public and private places (school, home, community) proper names for body parts, emotions, food and nutrition, personal care and personal space. I have really enjoyed teaching children these topics, the children can really relate to them and become so interested. I normally spend a fortnight on a topic in school, ensure the children can generalise it in school with different adults. After this, send home any activities that have been mastered in school to the parents to work on generalisation at home.

Strategies

I use the same strategies for teaching this topic as I would for teaching any other topic to children with autism. In particular strategies I found that have worked well are: visuals, schedules, work systems, social stories, line drawings and backward chaining. One piece of advice I received when completing CPD was to only teach the children about their own gender. Depending on ability some children could be taught about what changes will happen to the opposite gender. Use both proactive and reactive strategies, if possible, try to ensure that the majority of teaching time is proactive strategies. For reactive strategies, we found it beneficial to sit down as a team and decide how we would try to react to unexpected/inappropriate behaviours to try and minimize the likelihood of them happening again. Sometimes our reactions can encourage the behaviours to happen again so it was definitely important for us to have a plan in place.

When teaching older children about puberty, I found teaching the girls in a group and then teaching the boys in a separate group worked best. To ensure it was a safe space for the children and to ensure younger children didn’t hear anything that they shouldn’t, I had to work on my timetabling to ensure the group I was working with were the only ones in the room at that time. I scheduled the group around times other children would be in mainstream, on movement breaks etc.

Resources

There are a lot of amazing resources for teaching RSE for children in the mainstream. I find that some of these resources didn’t suit the children with autism in my class as they required a theory of mind to get the benefit from them. I ended up making a lot of my own resources instead.

Here are some resources I did find useful and some further reading if this topic interests you too.

‘What’s Happening to Ellie?’ – Kate E. Reynolds

‘What’s Happening to Tom?’ – Kate E. Reynolds

‘Thinking About You, Thinking About Me’

‘Talkabout Relationships’ – Alex Kelly

SPHE Support Service link: https://sphe.ie/supportservice.aspx

Further Reading:

‘Sexuality and Relationship Education for Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders’ – Davida Hartman

‘Hidden Curriculum’ – Brenda Smith Myles

‘Autism and Appropriate Touch’ – Abigail Werner James

Thank you so much for reading, I hope this has been beneficial to you in some way. I know I found this a difficult topic to approach at the beginning so if anyone would like to ask any questions, help with resources or would like to chat about it, I would love to hear from you.

Mo

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About Me

Hello to whoever is reading this,

I have wanted to start a blog for a few years now. I eventually stopped overthinking it and started with this post.

I guess I will start by introducing myself. I am an Irish Primary School Teacher and have been teaching for 7 years. My passion is in autism and I’ve taught in an ASD class in a mainstream school for 3 years and as a Special Education Teacher for 2 years.

I completed my B.Ed degree in St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra. After completing my H.Dip in a mainstream class, I ended up subbing in some ASD classes and loving it. A job came up in an ASD class in a school I had been working in, I chanced my arm and applied and haven’t looked back since.

I love working with children with ASD, each day is different and I am learning so much from the job. In my first year working in the ASD class I was so fortunate to be working with 2 amazing SNAs who showed me the ropes in every way imaginable. Together we developed a class structure and routine that worked for us and most importantly the children in our class.

I have learned so much on the job and love completing CPD in the area to get new ideas. Along the way I’ve completed countless CPD courses, I particularly enjoy courses with the SESS. I love learning new strategies and refreshing on courses I’ve previously done. More recently I completed the Post Grad in Inclusive Education, Learning Support and Special Education in DCU. I was torn between completing that course and a very similar course in St Angela’s College, Sligo. I applied to both. The course in DCU is funded by the Department of Education and Skills so that did have a big influence on my decision in the end. I thoroughly enjoyed the course, learned so much and have made friends with some lovely teachers.

After completing the Post Grad, I took the opportunity to take a career break. I spent a year in Australia working as a Relief Teacher in Special Education Schools and Autism Specific Schools. I loved the time I spent there and learned so many new ideas and strategies that I can’t wait to implement with my own class. It was so interesting to see SEN school settings in a different country.

I love reading other blogs to get new ideas and to hear other people’s experiences. Sometimes I think it’s nice to read other people’s blogs to hear from someone who is in the same situation even if they don’t have a solution.

I am excited to become part of this online community and would love to be able to offer some snippets of advice, resources, tips and experiences to hopefully help others in the way I have been helped online when I was starting out.

Thank you so much for reading this post, I hope you have enjoyed reading and getting to know a little bit about me.

I have also very nervously joined the Instagram community. I have genuinely been blown away by how supportive and friendly everyone has been so far. I have been so kindly welcomed by the community there. Thank you to anyone who has connected with me so far in any way. You can find me with the handle @autism_corner_

Please message me if you have any questions, would like to chat or if I can help in anyway. I would love to hear from you.

Here’s to a new adventure.

Mo