A new book aims to provide practical help and ideas for people working with autistic children. Publication of Teaching Young Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders to Learn, by Liz Hannah, who supports and teaches children in Southwark, coincides with an academic year that will see the further implementation of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act, which became law in May, and a revised code of practice for SEN.
The new regulations emphasise the importance of a holistic approach, involving parents, pupils, teachers and other workers, and this message is picked up early in the text: "This book has been written to help parents at home and staff in mainstream schools and nurseries support and teach children aged three to seven years who have an autistic disorder." Under Government policy, children with disabilities should whenever possible have the opportunity to learn alongside their peers in mainstream schools.
The book stresses that autistic children have no in-built desire to please and often don't understand why they should do something they don't want to do. Small rewards for having completed a task should be accompanied by praise, to reinforce the message about why the reward was given.
For older children, books or charts with stickers or ticks that they have to collect to earn a reward, should clearly state what the reward is being given for. Liz Hannah says this system works best if parents are involved to encourage children, and should be flexible to allow "bad days to happen" so the child will not lose motivation. "Do not take stickers away for bad behaviour but be positive in your expectation that, although today was terrible, tomorrow will be better," says Liz Hannah.
The author is aware of the staffing and funding realities in many education authorities and she has pitched the book's activities in such a way that they can be used in well-resourced schools or for "a few minutes each day as opportunities arise" by more hard-pressed teachers.
The book describes the areas of difficulty autistic children exhibit and covers issues such as "Developing early communication", "Teaching an understanding of number", "Lack of imagination and flexible thought" and "Behaviour support strategies".
Teaching Young Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders to Learn: A practical guide for parents and staff in mainstream schools and nurseries is published by the National Autistic Society and costs pound;14 plus pound;3 pamp;p. Call 01268 522872 to order a copy