During the 1980s, ideas around education began to change, as the concept of inclusion, based upon ideals of equality and human rights, began to gain currency. It was felt that all children should have the same access to the same quality of education, and should not be segregated on grounds of disability. Today, the Department for Education estimates there are around 15% of children in mainstream schools who have special educational needs.
I looked at the case of one child, Pupil A, a fourteen year old boy who had been diagnosed with both Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) whilst at primary school. He arrived at secondary school with a statement of special educational needs and has been supported through this school by a teacher who is a specialist in ASD.
As an ASD student, Pupil A shows many of the behaviours typical of this syndrome. He struggles with making friends at school, dislikes people coming too close to him or shouting and can become overwhelmed if too much information is presented at one time. If this happens, he may disengage from the lesson or become very anxious, which can result in aggressive behaviour. He is uncomfortable around new people, particularly new adults, and it takes time to build a trusting relationship with him. His handwriting and spelling are very poor, and he particularly dislikes having to write.
Pupil A also displays many of the behaviours associated with ADHD, such as fidgeting and tapping, getting out of his seat to move around the room, shouting or calling out without permission and can occasionally be rude and openly defiant to teachers. He is very easily distracted by other students and struggles to maintain focus on the task in hand.
All of the above factors impact negatively on Pupil A’s learning, and as a result he has made poor progress over the last few years, despite much support and frequent interventions, and is currently working well below his target grades in most subjects.
The particular needs and challenges faced by students who have co-morbid ASD and ADHD are so complex and intertwined it is hard to unpick where the difficulties lie in academic underachievement. In an effort to tackle one small aspect of Pupil A’s learning in science, I tried creating ‘taskboards’ for each lesson: checklists for all the activities that he would need to complete. The rationale is that pupils with ASD respond better in class when they can see a clearly defined structure to a lesson and understand what is expected of them. Many ASD students struggle with processing spoken instructions and find a printed list easier to deal with. Unfortunately, in the short time that I was working with Pupil A, I was unable to ascertain whether or not these taskboards were indeed helping him, but perhaps, over the longer term, they may become a routine that can encourage his focus in lesson time.