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Approaching the transition back to school

11th May 2020

Mother and child

There must be an acknowledgement that our learners will be changed by the experiences they have had. Tools and guidance must reflect this as we take the first steps in considering ‘how’ learners will return.

On the 23rd March the UK entered lockdown. This intervention, while necessary, has changed every aspect of life; our freedoms; how we live; work; communicate with friends and family. Nationally, within our schools and services, children and young adults saw a sudden and unexpected change to their world. It has impacted the way in which they learn and the support that teaching professionals provide.

Change to routines and being able to manage transitions can be a fundamental barrier for those with autism. It can be a source of anxiety. Even before entering lockdown, we know that 70% of those with autism are at risk of suffering from depression and severe anxiety.¹

Schools are institutions governed by structures, rituals and schedules. They offer a level of predictability, with enough carefully planned change to push the comfort zones of their learners. Since March we’ve seen a fundamental removal of these systems and the security blankets of learners, families and the professionals who support them. The speed in which decisions and changes have been implemented, often daily following new guidance, has been one of the biggest challenges faced by families and professionals.

When schools and services fully reopen, it should not be a matter of simply reinstating these previous support systems. There must be an acknowledgement that our learners will be changed by the experiences they have had, however shielded from the outside world.

We don’t yet know the full effect of lockdown on those with autism. However, we know through our Research and Learning Hub that academics and professionals are seeking to comprehend the impact – on a global, national and personal level.

One thing is for certain, our children and learners will return to school. Even though we don’t know when this will happen for all, we can assert a level of control over how we support learners, their families and our colleagues through this.

Prof. Barry Carpenter CBE, a Professor of Mental Health in Education at Oxford Brookes and Matthew Carpenter, Principal of Baxter College, UK have recently written about their thoughts on a ‘Recovery Curriculum’ and responding to the unimaginable challenges children and their families have faced.

They highlight the five losses faced by this generation of learners. Routine, structure, friendship, opportunity and freedom. They emphasise the possibility that these losses could ‘trigger the emergence emotionally of anxiety, trauma and bereavement in any child’. They go on to state the ‘overall impact cannot be underestimated. It will cause a rapid erosion of the mental health state in our children.’²

When learners do return to schools and services, the focus must be on ‘healing’ and recovery, and not simply back to being driven by assessment outcomes or attainment. How successful we are will be judged on the wellbeing of our students, and their ability to develop the skills to manage going forward.

BeyondAutism Teachers, Therapists and Behavioural Analysts have been working together to produce a pack of ‘transitioning back to school’ resources. We have done this under a blanket of national uncertainty regarding ‘when’ and ‘how’ our schools will fully reopen to provide education for all students. All the resources should be used with an understanding that support is compassionate; tailored; person-centred and implemented with the learner’s ‘voice’ being heard.

The tools and guidance developed in this pack are designed to be the first steps in considering ‘how’ learners will return. It is by no means a comprehensive curriculum model. However, it should be used to start the conversation between colleagues, families and learners about what new structures and support will need to be in place. Download the pack here.

David Anthony
Head of Research and Learning

Back to school resource

1. Mind, 2015, Supporting people living with autism spectrum disorder and mental health problems; A guide for practitioners and providers, viewed 11th May 2020
2. Carpenter, B et al 2020, A Recovery Curriculum: Loss and Life for our children and schools post pandemic, viewed 11th May 2020

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