World Autism Awareness Week: Why I Moved From Mainstream to Teaching Students on the Autistic Spectrum
I studied Psychology as part of my degree and have always been fascinated by social interaction. When I first started teaching I taught in a mainstream setting and a specialist ASD unit. It didn’t take me long to find out what I really enjoyed was working with students with autistic spectrum disorder, and this blog is about why…
- I suppose the first difference I noticed and loved between mainstream and ASD students was their individuality. Whereas secondary mainstream pupils try their hardest to blend in with their peers I found students with autism to be more at ease with their differences. They felt no need to change to appease others or be accepted by them. This meant I had a class of proper individuals which I found very refreshing.
- The classes were smaller so I had the opportunity to really get to know my students as well as develop deeper and more meaningful relationships with them. This meant that I could cater more specifically to their highly individual needs.
- Which in turn meant they were often open, friendly and warm because they recognised and experienced my specialised interest in each of them.
- Because outcomes for SEND students in general are less proscribed than those for mainstream, I had real autonomy in my classroom and was able to be creative and flexible in my teaching practice.
- You can make real impact on students and their lives; whether that be watching pride in themselves and confidence grow, enabling basic communication, teaching life skills such as using public transport and doing shopping, or making a drink.
- Because of the intensity of the work, I found student growth, attainment and success hugely satisfying and the personal rewards felt bigger.
So if you’re wondering if a transition to teaching in an ASD or SEND setting is for you here, are some things for you to consider
- There are no specialist qualifications necessary for teaching in Special Education though some specialist settings might require Team Teach.
- It’s hard work, before you get into the classroom, once you’re there and afterwards, when you’re exhausted from the sheer intensity of it. So you have to be passionate about it.
- You need to be highly prepared and flexible in your teaching as SEND and ASD classrooms in particular, can be unpredictable teaching environments. One minute you’re in teaching mode, the next in safeguarding…
- Your students will be hugely different from each other and so it is essential that your teaching is creative.
- If you find differentiation in mainstream settings difficult then teaching in an ASD class may well be one challenge too far for you.
But the rewards are AMAZING as illustrated with this anecdote
“When I first met 13 year old Amanda she never initiated conversation with her peers, me or our TA. In fact, she had no positive social interaction whatsoever. Once I found out about her love of TV cartoons, The Simpsons & Futurama in particular, I found something I could use to engage her, and the rest of the class found they had something in common with her. After two years of working with her, her behaviour had changed dramatically; unprompted she contributed to class discussions, she played with her fellow students during play time and more readily joined group class activities.
As for me, I felt I’d made a real difference to her and helped her develop some essential life skills. This was hugely fulfilling for me as her teacher and made the extra effort I put into preparation for working with her more than worth it”
Did you know Prospero Teaching has a specialist SEND team and that some of our staff have taught and supported students with autism and that we have jobs in mainstream and SEND settings teaching students on the ASD all over England and Wales?
Have you ever considered working with students on the ASD? Did you know you don’t need any specific qualifications? What you need is to be super creative and flexible in the classroom.
Do you work with students on the ASD?
Did you start your teaching career in mainstream or special education?
Do you have any advice or thoughts about moving from teaching in mainstream to an ASD setting?
Or do you have any experiences of working with students on the ASD you’d like to share with the Prospero Community during World Autism Awareness Week and thereby help to build awareness of autism…..?