Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Working with Autism

A couple of weeks ago, the lovely and talented author RJ Scott asked me if I’d take part in a series of blogs about autism to highlight Autism Awareness Month ,so here is my take on working in a nursery for autistic children.

A Fact You May Not Know About Autism
 In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) argued that the world faces a critical problem with the growing number of people with mental and neurological problems, including autism, which accounts for 11% of global disease. The number is projected to reach 14.7% by 2020.

A few years ago, I had a short-term job as an administrator at a nursery for children with autism. It was an eye-opening experience for me as I had only met one or two kids with autism up to that point.

Despite the fact that I hate kids *shudder*, I’ve worked in playgroups, mum and toddler groups, Sunday school, Brownies. You name it, I’ve done it, but I’ve never had much experience of children with difficulties other than asthma, food allergies etc. At the start I was, to be blunt, petrified, because I felt out of my depth. I wasn’t there to look after the kids though, and it enabled me to have an observer’s role.

What I discovered was slightly different from the usual nursery structure. Despite catering from two and a half to six year olds, it was much more like school. The classrooms (it was a hut with a classroom either side) were simply decorated, with not too much clashing colour in your face. The day’s structure was very rigid, as was how the staff handled the kids. Each activity was carefully planned to enable the child to gain the maximum from it.

Looking after the kids and providing the best for them was and is a life’s passion for the headmistress and staff. The headmistress has spent years studying autism, learning through trial and error the best way of handling each child, and now is a renowned expert on the subject. Her staff is equally dedicated. The headmistress worked hours you wouldn’t believe for her kids, and I am awed by her commitment.

What struck me about my short time there was the way the staff went out of their way, not only to help the child, but to help the parents, who were often bewildered and desperate after finally getting the diagnosis that their child was autistic. The staff helped them not only dealing with their child who didn’t behave like other kids, but also with the benefits forms, dealing with social services and moving onward from the nursery into specialised or mainstream schools.

The one thing that I always noticed about the children is how visible they were around my town. They go for walks, go to the library, and go to the miniature steam railway line. No way are these kids hidden away from the world. They are out there, joining in, and people see them too.

The last thing I learnt, and probably the most fundamental, is that kids are kids. In an environment where they are nurtured, they laugh, they play, and even if they can’t join in there is something to take their interest. I was there to help the headmistress but I think I got more from the experience than they did.

As part of RJ’s Autism Awareness posting I will be drawing a name from any comments to this blog, and offering a copy of Stolen Dreams.

Then there's the Spectrum Competition being run by Silver Publishing in support of Autism Awareness hosted on Silver Publishing's Forum. If you haven't already, register to be a part of the Forum and have a chance at the amazing Prize.

For more information on Autism, visit the World Autism Awareness Facebook page. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this... in so many situations it has been teachers and helpers that have supported us. The ones who deal with kids like Matt every day...

    Hugs RJ XXX