The Behaviour Question

16th March 2012 at 00:00

A child in my infant class, who is undergoing assessment for autism, is becoming more and more violent. He has taken to slapping people across the face if he comes across something he does not like. In the past month, he has physically attacked me on three separate occasions during lessons. He does have an odd perspective on the world sometimes, and the slapping and hitting is always justified in his eyes. My headteacher is reluctant to give him sanctions due to his "lack of understanding". Today he hit me on my arm and threw a sharp pencil hard at my face, which drew blood on my forehead - all because he did not want to do any writing.

What you said


Sanctions aren't always for the pupil being sanctioned alone. The rest of the class need to see that violence has a consequence or you may find that the autistic child isn't the only one hitting staff. The school has a duty of care to you, the teaching assistant and the other pupils.


Challenging behaviour is a common feature among children with autism as they can have difficulty with impulse control. This behaviour is often a sign that there is something wrong and the child has become highly distressed and anxious but can't communicate their problem. Often the reason for the behaviour is not what you expect. You are in a very difficult and stressful position, and it sounds to me like what you and the child urgently need is support and autism training. You may find The Autism Toolbox useful: http:bit.lyA94SuC

The expert view

Teachers have no right to refuse to teach, but the school does have a duty of care. If you are routinely assaulted - and that is what it is, assault - and the school knows about it, then the school is failing to provide a safe working environment.

I might add that they are also being totally invertebrate: it is easy for them to brush this under the carpet as they do not have to suffer the blows. You do. You are going to have to step up your campaign and protect yourself, your teaching assistant and the other pupils from this child.

It might not be his fault. He may genuinely be beyond responsibility (although I suspect that in all but the most extreme levels on the autistic spectrum this is not the case). However, it is not your fault either, and it is the school's responsibility not to expose you to danger.

Tell the head that, if the pupil is not given special provision, external to the classroom, you will consult your union as you fear for your safety. Repeat that the child needs some kind of sanction system. If his needs are too great to be met in mainstream school, and if he is not subject to mainstream behaviour modifications such as sanctions, then he should not be there. The needs of the many must outweigh the needs of the few. You cannot be expected to deal with this - you are not a one-to-one tutor in a special school, you have a whole class to help. Your school is neglecting its duty appallingly.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher.

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