I believe that whatever supporting role we are in, we owe it to ourselves to keep learning. Why?
When I was training to be a teacher back in the early 1990s, I had a tutor who said the time you feel you know everything, is the time to get out of teaching. It is a comment that has always stayed with me and I have always enjoyed learning new things, keeping my thinking fresh and up to date. Some of those learning experiences have been very formal and I gained a qualification such as my teacher degree, my Accredited SENCO Award and my M Ed (at the age of 50 years!). However, many, many learning experiences have been informal, daily events.
It may be a seemingly simple, everyday event that can give us a the best learning experience. Every child we come across is unique and inevitably teaches us something new. At the time we may find ourselves in a challenging situation and find it hard to see the learning experience involved. There will always be one! The amount of times in my teaching career, I sat back and said to myself ‘well, I won’t do that again!’ These situations build our knowledge, our resilience, our skills, our perspective; all very important learning experiences.
We owe it to ourselves to keep learning to keep our knowledge up to date. Thinking around autism is in a continuing period of change and we need to know about this. Having accurate knowledge builds our confidence when working with the children but also when talking to other people about autism, sharing what we are trying to achieve with our support and with our own daily practice. When we feel confident, we feel more empowered to try something new or to give our opinion. A supporting role is often demanding and we need to have knowledge, confidence and skills to keep our self-esteem high and this feeds into our mental health. The children are very important and at the heart of what we do. But as adults, we must not forget about ourselves and what we need.
Let me list some of the ways you can keep learning:
- Get to know the individual child, read their ‘file’ if you are supporting in school. Diagnostic letters with recommendations, or the EHCP will give you lots of information before you start working with them. If there is something mentioned on the paperwork that you don’t know about, look it up or ask someone. The SENCO should know if you are unsure.
- Learn from the other adults you are working with. They can also learn from you so don’t under sell the knowledge and skills that you have. If you go on a training course, share the content with your colleagues. Ensure you have someone to talk to about your work. If you work in a school, you may have supervision opportunities with a member of SLT. This is really important, I have supervision sessions myself.
- If you are look up information online, use a reputable UK site like The National Autistic Society www.autism.org or The Autism Education Trust www.autismeducationtrust.org . It is easy to find information but not all of it is relevant to the UK. Other countries can have different responses to autism provision as their politics are driven by a different model of disability to the UK. If you are not careful, you can find yourself reading out of date information or even about practices that are not recognised in the UK.
- I follow a range of people on facebook who I’ve learnt a variety of things from. Again, just be careful about the message they are giving and that it fits up to date thinking around autism in the UK. I follow a range of professionals relating to Occupational Therapy, Speech and Language, Learning Needs so I have a full perspective and not just autism.
- Most of the interventions and strategies you use probably have a direct training site. For example Attention Autism has a facebook page and website with official information and training opportunities, as does the Zones of Regulation. It is always worth checking out what is on offer. Six Bricks, for example, has lots of training opportunities, as does Reachout ASC. I have done courses with both of these providers and found them really useful. They have added to my knowledge and provided me with different ideas to share with the schools and parents I support.
- As a result of Covid 19 pandemic, there are lots of online training providers offering a range of workshops (me included!). They are usually offered at a reasonable price and cover a range of content, most lasting between an hour and 90 minutes via zoom. Even those that are not about autism per say can be really useful. For example, a webinar on trauma can be just as useful, as can those about ADHD, dyslexia or dyspraxia.
- Many colleges are offering a range of free Level 2 courses that you can do online. I have just completed Level 2 in Mental Health Awareness, which was a really useful course. I had a number of units to read and complete a series of questions on each one. It was more time consuming than I thought, so just be aware of that. Make sure you have the time to dedicate to the study.
- You may be considering a formal study at a higher level, such as a degree. I must admit, that I never considered myself doing a Masters Degree (in all honesty, I didn’t think I was intelligent enough for that level of study!) but it is one of the best things I have ever done in my career. I had to really push myself, but I owe autism act in part to the completion of my degree and the subject of my dissertation.
Building our own knowledge builds confidence in our supporting roles, whatever they may be. It helps us to have a greater positive impact on the children we are supporting and it helps us to look after ourselves.