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Behaviour Management

The Three Waves of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Have you ever struggled to explain the impact of Autism Spectrum Disorder on a child’s learning? Here’s an analogy that makes it easy and accessible.

While studying, I came across an analogy in Educating Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders: A Practical Guide by Martin Hanbury that could be easily used by teachers to explain Autism Spectrum Disorder’s (ASD) impact on a child’s learning. In the book, they compare the impact to waves. 

The first wave is the effect of the condition itself: communication difficulties, an affinity for routine and sameness, sensory issues and potential struggles organising thoughts.

The second wave is the behaviour that is caused by this first wave: socially inappropriate behaviour, the struggle with change, desire to escape situations that are overwhelming and difficulties switching from one task to the next, for example.

The third wave is the attitudes that form as a result of this behaviour. These include the quality of relationships that the child forms with those around them and the wider world. The first two waves can impact these attitudes and relationships significantly.

What I like about this analogy is how you can build on it. If you think of waves, you think of a surfer. And how does a surfer maximise the waves? Do they surf against the current? They do not.

A surfer will travel with the waves. They will harness their power and use the strength of the waves to their advantage. A teacher, special needs assistant or parent should consider themselves like a surfer when supporting a child with ASD. Instead of fighting the waves and trying to swim against the tide, they should go with the waves and work to the child’s strengths. As you adopt this mentality, you will realise that the strengths are many.

For example, if a child has an affinity for routine, utilise routine. If they have an interest that they struggle to transition away from, base your lessons around this to engage them. If they seek sensory input and like messy play, schedule it in regularly to art lessons. 

Instead of expecting children to change to suit us, it is a far more positive experience when we change to suit them. Surfing the waves is more fun than fighting them. 

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By Barry Whelan

A teacher with a huge interest in improving behaviour, communication and inclusion.

One reply on “The Three Waves of Autism Spectrum Disorder”

I strongly feel that not only should all school teachers have received autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) training, but that there should further be an inclusion in standard high school curriculum of a child development course which in part would also teach about the often debilitating condition.

It would explain to students how, among other aspects of the condition, ASD and AS people, including higher functioning autistics, are often deemed willfully ‘difficult’ and socially incongruent, when such behavior is really not a choice.

It might even spare some student, somewhere, from getting bullied.

General society perceives and treats human reproductive “rights” as though we’ll somehow, in blind anticipation, be innately inclined to sufficiently understand and appropriately nurture our children’s naturally developing minds and needs.

As a moral and ethical rule, a psychologically sound as well as a physically healthy future must be all children’s foremost right—especially considering the very troubled world into which they never asked to enter.

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