“Any understanding of autism should not be approached from a position of ‘deficit’, but rather from apposition of ‘difference’. Autistic people are not neuro-typical people with something missing or something extra added on. They are different. If we are serious about equality and inclusion within any area, then we must first of all understand that difference.”
– Christine Breakey (2006), The Autism Spectrum: A Guide to Good Practice
This month, organisations nationally have been recognising the importance of neurodiversity and championing diversity and inclusion. Below we take a look at how colleagues at Carlisle College induct new learners and introduce them to their course, how Newcastle College’s Autism Academy creates a safe space for learners with their Autism Base Room, how Newcastle Sixth Form College engage their leaners and colleagues in neurodiversity and how colleagues and learners recently came together at Lewisham College to celebrate their personal and academic achievements.
Carlisle College – Transitioning into College Life
For young learners, transitioning into college life can be daunting with a lot of new information to take in. This transition tentatively begins in Year 9, when colleagues from Carlisle College’s Transition Team first become involved in the learner’s journey by attending Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) review meetings and discuss the possibility of the learner attending the college. By Year 10 and Year 11, there is a more active focus among colleagues on inviting the learners into the college for visits and tours, usually during academic holidays. Taster days and infills are also often arranged to give the learner and their family as much information as they need to make an informed decision on their next steps.
Recently the Transition Team were also inspired by a ‘quiet hour’ held by some of the local supermarkets for autistic shoppers who struggle with music and noise. The team at Carlisle organised a Quiet Advice and Guidance Evening, allowing young learners to meet colleagues and curriculum leaders in a classroom environment, rather than a hall or a refectory. This change in location meant teaching colleagues had more time to talk to the young learners about the details of their course, while Learning Support and Student Ambassadors were also on hand to answer questions around support and college life. Learners that went on to register with the college were then offered a quiet enrolment session that avoided the long ques often seen at busy times and ensured a calm and friendly atmosphere was created.
Understanding the behaviours of an autistic learner is key for a teaching or support colleague, as it is this understanding of how students learn and interact with the world around them that can allow colleagues to tailor classroom activities to their individual needs.
To support our teaching and support colleagues, Carlisle College are currently running Autism Awareness Training. The session offers an overview of autism and the various traits learners can present, explores lesson planning and student profiles for learners with autism and examines how the teaching colleague can differentiate tasks.
This training introduces colleagues to a range of techniques and strategies to support learners including the importance of keeping the student’s profile up to date as they develop and become more comfortable or confident and modifying assignment briefs to be more user friendly. These strategies go a long way in ensuring our learners have the tools they need to unlock their potential.
Newcastle College – The Autism Base Room
Colleagues at Newcastle College are proud of their Autism Base Room, a space for learners to strengthen their social, communication and independent living skills. In addition to being available for enrichment and fundraising events, trained and experienced colleagues supervise the room at all times, ensuring learners can drop-in during break times and free periods.
The Autism Team offer in-house training to give colleagues a better understanding of autism and the way it affects young people. The objectives are to:
- Identify the four key areas of need when working with learners with autism.
- Know of the importance of understanding the young person with autism, their profile of strengths and areas for development.
- Identify the key areas to support young people with autism build relationships with their peers, staff and people in their community.
- Develop an awareness of the sensory and communication differences that young people with autism may experience.
Central Support Service can also offer a wide range of services including:
- Social groups, activities and skills training
- Travel training support
- Employability support
- One-to-one study support outside of the classroom
- The loan of assistive technology and/or specialist equipment
- Support in exams and with Special Exam Consideration applications
- One-to-one or group support in the classroom
- One-to-one mentoring sessions
- Help with applications for funding and finance
The Autism Team also offer additional support for potential learners through Easter and Summer programmes, ensuring learners have a smooth transition into college and onto their chosen course. These are an ideal way for potential learners to familiarise themselves with the college environment, meet staff from the Autism Team and also meet other learners who will be coming to study at the campus.
Newcastle Sixth Form College – Getting Quizzical
The Learning Support team at Newcastle Sixth Form College were fully involved in the new Autism Acceptance Campaign being run by North East Autism Society. As part of the Sixth Form’s celebration of the campaign and to keep awareness high, they conducted a week long quiz for all learners, with high levels of participation. The fun event meant that on each day, learners were given a fresh focus and reminders of the campaign.
As part of their ongoing commitment to learners, colleagues are placing a significant focus on targeted study sessions as they prepare for their A level exams. This targeted support is just one of the really positive actions, with measurable benefits for the learners being implemented. Learners are being encouraged to book in for 1:1 support sessions and personalised revision timetables are being developed for learners.
Lewisham College – Autism Awareness Fundraising Celebration
The supported learning offer at Lewisham College exists to support learners with ranging abilities however, they have a particular focus on learners with Autism.
Earlier this month, 150 colleagues and learners came together in aid of Autism Awareness, celebrating the achievements of learners on the autistic spectrum and the rich contribution they make to the life of the College and its student .
With quizzes, competitions, music and drama, homemade cakes and handmade cards, the event was designed to highlight the role that the college plays in supporting learners and families living with autism.
A significant concern for people on the autistic spectrum is being unable to access education or find the right support to find employment, with only 16% of autistic adults in the UK in full-time paid employment, 32% in any kind of paid work and one in three autistic children being excluded from school (National Autistic Society, 2016). Therefore, creating an inclusive environment is crucial for our learners and their development.
The events raised funds for the National Autistic Society, which supports people with autism in education, at work and in the community and preparations are underway to launch a supported learning programme at Southwark College in September 2019.
Sending special thanks to all of our colleagues working within the SEND provisions at NCG. The teams across NCG make a profound difference to our learners and ensure our colleges are safe, welcoming and enriching environments that support our purpose, to unlock potential through learning.