Children with autism like space, so how hard is it for mainstream schools to provide for this?
In most medium to large organisations (some small businesses as well) you will find a room that has been offered for religious purposes, often called prayer or multi faith rooms. These rooms provide people of all faiths a quiet, reflective environment to support the religious needs of an individual. They are not only used because ones faith requires them to 'pray' necessarily at certain times during the working day (with the exception of Muslims) but are used quite often by people who require some 'break out' time from their often busy, stressful and demanding day.
Employers are not required to provide a prayer room, the law does not tell them they must but those who do see how it can stimulate good relations between those of different faiths. It also provides for the needs of those who struggle to manage levels of high stress and anxiety and can support the development of a productive workforce.
So how many schools offer a quiet room for those with autism or children suffering from anxiety? The answer sadly, is not enough.
The major difference between faith rooms in an organisation and a quiet room in a school is supervision. Children need to be supervised and this means finding a suitably trained person to supervise the room when in use. This can add a financial or logistical issue to the process.
The challenge for schools is to focus on the longer term benefits of providing this facility and to avoid 'thinking errors' that can fabricate short term problems.
What can the quiet room be used for?
Quiet rooms are sensory controlled calming zones. The room is not a place for exclusion, and it is not a place for the purpose of punishment. Rather, it is a space to help children to calm down, and to begin to use self-regulation skills. It can provide support for a wide range of children's difficulties but they must be used in conjunction with targeted intervention and coping strategy building. The aim is eventually for those who may use it regularly to reduce their dependence on it as their schooling progresses.
How to design a sensory room
Children who are on the autistic spectrum may benefit from further considerations in the design of such a room such as curved walls, space and general openness within the room. A simple example of this would be to place all the furniture to the side of the room, leaving the middle as free as possible.
Painting the walls in calming colours.
Providing equipment can be expensive or cheap, it really depends on how you decide to proceed. Providing a couple of giant beanbags, fibre optics and a small sound system to play music could be provided for less than £200 if you shop around. Or you could go straight to a well know manufacture of expensive audio visual equipment and spend £2000 on a surround sound system. It really depends on how many students will use the room, how often, and of course, your budget.
Some items that are commonly found in sensory rooms:
- Soothing music
- Vibrating cushions
- Fibre optics
- Mirror balls
- Bubble tubes
- Water beds
- Tactile walls
- Disco lights
- Equipment that is activated by switches, movement, sound or pressure so that people learn about cause and effect.
If you don't have the money or the space to have a sensory room, try creating a sensory corner with a seat that is screened off from the main room by hanging a long sheet of dark fabric from the ceiling. A few of the items listed above could be brought into this little corner.
Godwin Emmons and McKendry Anderson (2005) suggested creating a sensory bag or sensory basket, which could contain a selection of sensory items that can travel around with the child or adult, and possibly help them to manage any stress, anxiety or sensory overload. They suggest that some or all of the following could be kept in the sensory bag:
- Stress balls
- A whistle with the pea removed for hard blowing
- Unbreakable mirror - for the person with autism to be able to see their emotions
- Two footprints that can be put on the floor for jumping or stomping
- Scented lotions.
Again, the idea here is that you can provide something without spending a fortune!
Some common known 'problems' or excuses
"There is no room available"
It would probably be more helpful to explore potential options of creating a room to make available.
Some rooms may be under used to the extent that they could be divided into two with some small outlay on partitioning.
Renting a portacabin or other temporary structure and looking at local authority or charitable funding to support it.
"We have no staff available"
Approach specialist support groups in the area for voluntary assistance
Many universities now provide degree and masters level qualifications in special educational needs.
Contact and discuss partnership placement working for students who can offer their services on a voluntary basis. In return they are able to provide experience on their CV for potential employers after they leave university.
Where two or more schools are closely explore the possibilities of a shared environment.
"There is no money in the budget"
This provides for fundraising opportunities
Approaching charities for support or assistance
If it takes three years to fund it then it takes three years but at least the school is working towards the goal of creating one.
"We can’t afford for a consultant to help us"
The National Autistic Society and other leading expert groups will, on most occasions provide this assistance for free…..contact them and find out!
These are all options that can be explored further
It is far easier to give an excuse as to why you can’t do something then explore the possibilities of how you can do something