Once children have been diagnosed with autism, many parents are concerned that they will not get the care they need in mainstream education. However, autism is on a spectrum and many autistic students are absolutely fine in mainstream education, provided that they receive the assistance that they need. Support workers can help autistic children in class in a number of ways.
Cater to individual needs
Each student will have different needs and teachers may not be able to cope with some of the more time-intensive ones. For example, autistic students may struggle when there is a lack of consistency, they may need assistance when interacting with others, they may need help in understanding wording that is not supposed to be taken literally and they may over-complicate tasks that are actually very straightforward. Together, the support worker and student can ensure progress without having to constantly demand the attention of the teacher.
Provide study tips
Autistic students may need assistance with their study techniques, both during the class and at home. What appears to be a relatively simple task can be misunderstood, either because of the way it is worded, or the way that the teacher explains it. The student may try to answer a task or assignment by using complicated vocabulary that his peers, and sometimes even his teacher, simply don’t understand. A support worker can help ensure his work is at the correct level and can suggest ways of completing course work and studying for exams without causing unnecessary stress.
Liaise with teachers and staff
It can be hard for teachers and other members of staff in mainstream schools to keep up to date with an autistic student’s progress. Even if they see the student on a daily basis, he may not be forthcoming about issues and problems. A support worker can help keep everyone informed of any changes in the student’s behaviour, his overall ability to keep on a level with the rest of the class and to initiate a conversation if the student has concerns. A support worker should also be able to explain any quirks that the student may have and liaise with the parents if necessary.
Help other students understand
It can be difficult for autistic students to make friends – in some cases, they may struggle to interact with others at all, finding other students’ body language and phrasing impossible to understand. This can lead to a very lonely existence with the student in question labelled as autistic and to be left alone at all costs. A support worker can help bring students together, particularly when working in groups, and to mediate in the case of any misunderstanding. At the very least, the support worker can help other students to see that the autistic student is human just like everyone else.
It is important to monitor the progress of autistic students in class to ensure that they have a positive experience. If necessary, a support worker can refer the student to other services or experts. Monitoring progress is also of great assistance to parents, who will naturally be worried about their children, and teachers, who may be concerned that their teaching methods are not suited to autistic students. Regular feedback from the support worker on behalf of the student can help them make adjustments as necessary.
Support workers are sometimes seen as an embarrassment because the person that they support is then seen as different from everyone else. However, a good support worker can be vital in ensuring that an autistic student uses his specific skills to the best of his ability.