On-line learning – What is “A Person First Approach to Autism”?

At NESTS our primary goal is to be effective educators and advocates for all members of the teaching community. Therefore, it is important to Jamie and I that we keep up to date with the current academic research and keep learning. This month we learnt more about Autism Spectrum Disorder and its impact on the lives of individuals. Here on our blog we share this learning with you online. In addition, you can hear us speck at any of our up-coming seminars check these out here.

On-line learning

This month Cressida and Jamie completed an online course “Voices of Autism MOOC (Massive Open Online Course)” through Torrens University Australia alongside over 12,000 people from over 88 countries. This unique course was co-developed by individuals with autism.

A key learning strategy of the course was the use of anecdotal videos during which young people on the spectrum and their carers shared their experiences. The participants shared personal insights about what their experiences of living with autism. The barriers they have faced in their lives and the strategies that could be used to overcome these barriers.

The 5-week course examined 4 topics:
1. Person First
2. Education
3. Employment
4. Independence.

There is nothing more powerful than listening to the voice of a person who understands the impact of autism because that is their life. Throughout this course we listened to stories of the daily difficulties and challenges faced by individuals living with autism.

Key learning areas:

Here are the key learning points we would like to share:

  • Individuals that have a diagnosis of autism wish that everyone knew more about autism.

  • Autism is a communication difficulty

This was clearly illustrated by Paul, a young man on the spectrum, talking about his interactions with people in the community. Paul explained how individuals with autism are no different to anyone else, that we all contribute to our society in their own way and that people living with autism are no different. However, Paul explained that his brain works differently and some things that most people find easy, individuals with autism can extremely find hard.

For example, Paul said he finds it hard to answer, the apparently simple question “Would you like a cup of coffee?’. Paul genuinely doesn’t know if he would like a coffee or not. What he needs is time to reflect on the question and to think about it. He said that when asked a simple question like that, people expect an immediate response and if they don’t get one may assume he is being rude and further if the response is slow people tend to get very frustrated.

For all of us, this is an important reminder to allow individuals to take the time they need to respond to questions. Especially in our classrooms, we ask of our students so many questions in every lesson. To be inclusive teachers we need to allow all students the accommodations they need in our classrooms. For some students this will mean more time to answer questions. As we all know as effective teachers, we need to think  from a different perspective about all our teaching strategies no matter how small.

As autism is a communication deficit we need to be the ones that communicate effectively. That means communicating differently to different people.

  • Sensory sensitivities are real.

Elise, a young woman on the spectrum in discussing her sensitivities stated: “She thought she was allergic to the world”. Imagine feeling like that this, it would absolutely affect her learning and her behaviour in everything she does.

As educators, putting in place effective strategies to support these sensory challenges is essential.  If students with autism are going to be able to learn in the noisy, unpredictable world that is a school.

  • Never take the learning supports away

Although the individuals speaking in the videos can clearly express the many challenges they face each day, it does not reduce the impact of these challenges on their lives.

Every individual featured found school very hard. As educators, parents or friends of people on the spectrum we need to get to know and understand these individuals and to understand their strengths and challenges.

A key take away from the course and from listening to the experiences of the many participants talking about their lives as people on the spectrum was that accommodations are key.  The kind of supports we offer in schools – visual supports, sensory adjustments, communication aides and social stories – are still needed as these people transition into adulthood and especially into paid employment.

In schools, we need to make every person with autism feel that they are cared for in a nurturing environment. When these students feel safe and supported learning is more likely to take place. Educators are responsible for helping all their students to access the strategies they need to successfully navigate the world of school. To do that we must get to know these students.

Finally, never forget If you know one person with autism, then you know one person with autism.

Thank you to Torrens University for a brilliant free on-line course we hope it changes the perspectives of the 1200 people who enrolled.  We are sure that each participant now has a better understanding of life on the spectrum. More importantly, we hope these participants share their learning with others as we have done here.

Stay tuned for more insights on the blog soon.

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