Children with either Asperger's Syndrome or ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) see, hear and feel the world differently. If school sometimes feels overwhelming, can 1:1 tuition help?
Many children thrive in mainstream education. Most will experience a learning difficulty at some point in their lives. However, children with ASD or Asperger's will have some degree of both general and individual-specific learning requirements that need to be addressed to help them access learning at all.
These children may like school but find the buzz and sensory atmosphere of the classroom overwhelming. To different degrees, they may experience specific learning difficulties like processing language, taking language literally - or difficulty interpreting tone of voice, jokes and sarcasm. This can lead to communication issues between themselves and the teacher, and also with other students. Feeling confused can hinder how a child perceives instructions and may prevent them from keeping on task.
Children need different levels of help. Many children with Asperger syndrome are of average and above-average intelligence and do not have other learning disabilities in the same way that many autistic children may have. For example, they have fewer problems with speech. Often it is diagnosed later than autism, perhaps as late as 9 or 10 years old, which makes it even more important that support is given before commencing secondary school.
However, for all these children the classroom can be a hard place to navigate. Events happen quickly: several instructions are given at once and forgotten or misunderstood; a change of direction in a lesson is confusing; an abstract concept is hard to grasp. Simple things, like a facial expression, can be misinterpreted in a way that makes a child anxious – or lead them to make a mistake. It can also lead to frustration and anger – which runs the risk of exclusion. Even with extra classroom support, the nuances of a learning or social situation can be missed.
A study at the University of Southampton that involved intensive one to one tutoring of children with autism at the toddler stage, suggested that there could be dramatic increases in IQ levels in the very young, with noted improvements in social education and motor skills. Although many children receive support in mainstream education, intensive intervention is unlikely to be available. However, parents who know their child is having trouble accessing lessons are increasingly asking schools for extra help. And if this help is not forthcoming, or consistent in provision or quality, they are turning to the many agencies that provide tuition away from the school environment altogether.
Have you felt that home tutoring specifically for your child’s autism or Asperger’s could be educationally beneficial? Then you are not alone. Gillian Dixon, the co-founder of Teachers To Your Home, has recently reported an increasing volume of enquiries with regard to tutoring children with SEN – with at least 10 enquiries each week specifically focusing on autism or Asperger's.
What reasons are parents giving for requesting advice on 1:1 tuition? Just like children’s needs, these vary. But there are common threads. These include believing that class sizes are too large to cater to their child’s individual needs; and that there is a lack of specialist support within the school, or indeed an absence of any extra support, that might help their child learn in a specific way they need. In addition, they refer to their child having a lack of focus, or that they aren’t taking on new learning skills.
Unfortunately, whilst it is common for children to have a very strong and consuming passion or hobby, the curriculum cannot always allow them to use this to motivate their general learning. This can lead to decreasing enthusiasm in tackling subjects that don’t naturally interest them, even if the learning skill itself could still be taught.
A clear assessment of the current level of a child is a common request from parents. Then, if there are any gaps in early learning identified, they would like a tutor to seek strategies that will fill those gaps - whilst maintaining encouragement and teaching concrete strategies that they can take with them back into the classroom.
Teachers To Your Home has experienced parents describing feeling lost in a system. They want to act before it’s too late and do what they feel is the best for their child. They are also seeking reassurance, advice and support.
You want your child to learn, but you also want them to be happy, relaxed and feel successful. Parents of children with autism and Asperger’s recognise this difficult balance. They may describe a child as ‘lost’ within a busy class environment, even when the teacher is doing their very best to accommodate them. Unfortunately, this can equate to a child who is unhappy. And unhappy children, with or without learning difficulties, are unlikely to learn effectively. Whilst not a magic wand, 1:1 tuition can help inject some confidence and enthusiasm back, which can have a positive knock-on effect socially and mentally, not only with learning.
Students across all key stages can benefit, but most students matched with tutors at Teachers To Your Home are within KS2, KS3 or KS4. Sometimes students need an extra focus as exams approach – a potentially extra stressful time when gaps in learning are discovered and fast learning strategies are required. Bespoke one to one sessions, geared for the needs of an individual student, can bring the clarity and confidence needed for success.
Natalie's daughter has a diagnosis of Asperger's (also known also as High Functioning Autism) plus ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder). She has been receiving tuition for over a year. Now ten years old she recently took the 11+ exam, in a supported and calm environment, and passed with high marks.
Overall, Natalie feels that having 1:1 tuition has been very helpful. Her child gets the benefit of receiving full support and encouragement that wouldn’t happen in a class of 30, and there is the flexibility to explore her interest in animals and history. Although Natalie does not sit in on sessions, she is close by and experiences first-hand what she can and can’t do when under pressure (for example, if she avoids difficulties and how she cope) all of which adds to her understanding of her daughter’s conditions and what learning atmosphere and strategies help her to learn most effectively.
She has been pleased to witness her daughter’s enjoyment when she is fully submerged in her learning, which can have a knock-on effect on self-esteem and confidence. “It’s great to see that in a child, even though it's a small amount of time,” she says. “You can then discuss with them what they did and didn’t enjoy – and how they can improve and make better decisions themselves, and how to ask for help next time.”
Just because a child is not at school does not guarantee that things will always work smoothly. Natalie describes the home environment as a two-edged sword. “If my child has had a difficult morning, it can have a knock-on effect for the lesson,” she says. “However, being at home my child is more relaxed and familiar with her surroundings than at school. If needed, she can easily take herself off to calm down and return refreshed and ready to learn.”
Tutors aren’t perfect. Just like your child, they are individuals, and a tutor who helps one child, might not fit the needs of another. Nor is it simply a matter of qualifications. Speaking for Teachers To Your Home, Gillian Dixon has found that it is not always about the specific SEN qualifications of a tutor, but the quality of the experience they have had and the sense that they ‘fit’ with a particular family. “Success will depend on the quality and relevant experience of the tutor, and the relationship they have with the family and the child,” she suggests. “It is also often beneficial for a tutor to have direct liaison with the child's school and teacher.”
Carla Long, SENCO at a Kent Primary School, also suggests considering the length of a session. In her experience, it depends on the child and the extent of their needs, and that sometimes little and often works best. For example, two sessions of 30 or 40 minutes rather than an hour’s block.
Tutoring is most effective if as much information as possible can be given from the start, and that each party is open and honest. Natalie suggests asking the tutor how they want you to intervene, if necessary, and to explore some strategies they might have. Prior to beginning, it is most important to have an open and honest conversation about what they are likely to encounter. Communication and a sense of working together can really make a difference – and ensure your child gets the most from their 1:1 tutoring session.
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