On May 10th, I had the awesome opportunity to conduct a 3-hour customised workshop for Allied Educators from 13 primary and secondary schools of West Zone 4. Based on their primary objective of regulating the challenging behaviour of autistic learners, I was able to introduce them to the inner world of autistic learners, along with relationship-centred and empathetic strategies inspired partially by the work of Dr Antonio Rinaldi.
Through Keynote presentations, role playing, small and large group discussions, as well as demonstrations, this dynamic and interactive workshop addressed the following areas:
Unique Functioning of Autistic Learners
- Understanding Significance of Anxiety in Influencing Functioning
- Different Types of "Autistic Thinking" and Impact of Anxiety
- Composite portrait of Autistic Learner from the "Inside": Interaction of the Aforementioned Elements with Heightened Sensory Capacity
Interaction Strategies & Multi-Sensory Tools
- Adoption of Appropriate Mindset: a) Awareness of your own attitude and state of mind, b) Empathetic Observation and interpretation based on an understanding of the unique functioning of autistic individuals
- Focus on connection and relationship, not performance/behaviour: a) Capitalise on learner's high-motivation activity as opening for interaction b) Adopt an elastic style of interaction, c) Employ approaches to modulate, not suppress, "inappropriate" behaviour, and d) Recognise key role of positive moments
- Offer emotional and behavioural regulation support: a) Use communication strategies and tools to minimise anxiety of autistic learners b) Use sensory techniques to help them calm down and introduce them to self-calming techniques that can benefit anyone.
I was immensely grateful that the allied educators were extremely receptive to this workshop. These were some of the one-word comments they gave about the workshop to Superintendent Janis Lee: "Enlightening", "Refreshing", "Educational", "Awesome", "Empathy", "Understanding (of Autistic learner)".
Encouraged by this response and my one-on-one exchanges with the educators, it is my hope that I can reach out to even more clusters with such workshops to create a positive ripple effect. For it is critical that we transform our behaviour-centred approaches and perspectives of autistic learners at all schools. If not, there will be dire long-term effects like aggression and self-injury in some cases, which will typically be triggered from puberty onwards.
I would also like to formulate and implement customised variations of this workshop for different audiences — parents, school leaders, form and subject teachers, as well as students. Ultimately, autistic learners and and allied educators supporting them can only succeed in their endeavour to help autistic learners if they are supported by a mutually reinforcing supportive network. They cannot do this alone. The more people there are who are adopting the relationship-centred and empathetic strategies, the better the outcome will be for autistic learners.
Only when we have created nurturing and empathetic school communities could we have achieved a genuinely inclusive environment for all learners.