Review: Supporting Pupils on the Autism Spectrum in Primary Schools

Supporting Pupils on the Autism Spectrum in Primary Schools – Carolyn Canavan

Supporting pupils with autismA book with advice and resources for teaching assistants (and teachers) who have autistic students in the classrooms. As the title suggests, this book is aimed at primary schools and Canavan has a second book for secondary school students.

On a bit of a tangent before going into the book, I’m going to touch on the topic of the language used in autism. Autism is a huge spectrum – and two autistic people can be as different to each other as they are to any non-autistic person, and that includes in terms of their autism. Autism used to be categorised in terms of functioning labels, there have also been support labels, or severity labels.  These are beginning to fall increasingly out of favour and use – which I think is probably a good thing since the labels were not particularly informative. However, we must acknowledge that this makes finding resources quite difficult, and this book is a perfect example. The advice in this book and the resources would have been quite useful for me at school, but almost none of it is helpful for the students I currently work with. Anyway, that is just a general observation – onto the rest of the review.

I was not impressed with the beginning of this book. Many of the sections were really short with one standout being the fact that the ‘Girls with Autism’ section was less than a page in length. Some of the sections were quite inflexible in their approach, and other pages like the Strengths page put things across as universal within autism when they often are not. I would say that the first quarter of the book falls quite flat in terms of quality.

But it does pick up as it goes on, particularly once the resources are introduced. The sensory chapter is incredibly in-depth and has a lot of information on areas of difficulty, potential triggers for meltdowns, and strategies and resources to help. The behaviour section is practical and reasonable, and again has a lot of forms and resources to support both the teaching assistants and the students.

Assess the classroom, gym, hall… from the perspective of a young child on the autism spectrum, as Donna Williams does in her 1998 book, ‘Autism and Sensing: the unlost instinct’. What you perceive as a bright, colourful, noisy, busy, stimulating scene could be sensory hell for that child. Consider the behaviour in the classroom environment in this light and you may see it in a different way.

Then Canavan looks at specific difficulties and strategies for individual topics such as numeracy, literacy, science, technology and others and this contains a lot of useful information and resources. It includes things that are often missed out of other guides for teachers/teaching assistants such as the important of teaching students the dual purpose nature of some words (like “face” and “illustrate”) as well as things like how to scribe effectively for students. Once again, there are loads of printable/photocopiable resources for use in the classroom and to support the student with their education. So despite the less than brilliant start, this book ended up being incredibly interesting and would be very useful for many teaching assistants.

Is it worth reading?

Yes – it doesn’t start well but it picks up about a quarter of the way through and remains strong from then onwards. Lots of advice, strategies and resources.

Value for money?

Possibly – it’s £20 in the UK and $40 in the US, which is at the upper limit of what I would price this given the weak first part of the book. I’m going to lean more towards yes, just because of the sheer amount of resources and the advice it gives that often isn’t covered in other books. Of course, for a school it’s definitely value for money because multiple staff will be able to make use of it.

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