World Autism Awareness Week in Schools (Guest Post)

Axcis Education are proud to sponsor World Autism Awareness Week in Schools. In this guest post, Head of Campaigns at the National Autistic Society, Tom Purser, tells us about what autistic people and their families have told the charity they want the public to understand better about autism, and how schools play a pivotal part in making this happen. Read on to find out about how the charity are supporting schools to do this, including lots of free learning resources.

We want society to work for autistic children and adults. Schools have a key role to play in this – and that’s why we’re inviting them to get involved in World Autism Awareness Week (30 March – 5 April).

One in every 100 children is autistic and almost three quarters go to mainstream schools. Almost everyone has heard of autism now. But far too few people know what it’s actually like to be autistic – both the unique strengths and the challenges you might face if you struggle to communicate or feel intense anxiety in social situations.

We conducted some large scale research last year with autistic people and their families, who told us the top things they want the public to understand about autism. These are that autistic people may:

1)    Feel anxiety about changes or unexpected events

2)    Be under or over sensitive to sound, smells, light, taste and touch. This is called sensory sensitivity.

3)    Need time to process information, like questions or instructions

4)    Face high levels of anxiety in social situations

5)    Have difficulties communicating and interacting with others.

We know that better understanding of autism and improved support will transform the lives of the 700,000 autistic children and adults in the UK, and one of the key environments we can make positive changes in is in our schools.

There are some simple ways staff and students can help autistic children, including:

• Talk clearly and calmly to autistic students making sure they understand what is being asked of them

• Don’t rely on body language or facial expressions to communicate

• Give anxious or agitated students space and time to recover

• Give autistic students notice about any changes in routine

• If your school has dimmer lights, please use them

• Consider asking parents if their child would like to use ear defenders to help them deal with the noise

• Share our films and learning resources with the whole school to help them understand autism.

This year, we’ve developed a set of learning resources aimed at schools, including lesson plans, videos and posters, which can help classmates and staff learn how to support autistic students in their school through better understanding of the key things autistic children might experience differently. The resources, tailored to different age ranges, promote the idea that we’re all different, and we’re all the same.

Alongside handy tips like this we’ll have special early years resources featuring Daisy & Ollie, primary resources featuring our characters ‘the Trummies’ and secondary resources with Talia Grant, autistic actress from Hollyoaks. The resources are free and a great way for schools to incorporate important lessons about acceptance and understanding into their plans for World Autism Awareness Week. There’s even a competition to win a visit from the Daisy & Ollie animators and the show’s characters themselves, for schools who choose to fundraise to support our charity during the week.

We wouldn’t have been able to develop these vital resources for schools without the ongoing support of Axcis Education.

We’re looking forward to working with lots of schools this year. Last year we had over 4,000 schools sign up to use our learning resources and we’ve already had almost 2,500 people sign up to receive the new resources for World Autism Awareness Week 2020, the full set of which will be available in February. It’s great to see so many schools already committing to creating a better society for the 140,000 school-age children in the UK.

Tom Purser, Head of Campaigns at the National Autistic Society

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