In September 2021 I started in an autism class for the first time. While I have a lot of experience in working with autistic children as a SET, class teacher, July Provision tutor, and SENCO, it was my first year as an autism class teacher.
I thought given my experience that it would be an easy transition, so I was quite surprised at how overwhelming the first 8 weeks have been and how it has taken me so long to find my feet. In many ways, it was reminiscent of my first year of teaching when I just felt like I would never get on top of things. However, I also remember during my first year of teaching not really knowing what I was meant to be doing! This time around I knew what paperwork, visuals, interventions etc. that I needed to do, it was just the sheer volume and trying to find time to get it all done that seemed like an impossible task.
In this post, I want to give an overview of what September and October have looked like for me and hopefully it will help other new autism class teachers feel less alone if they have found the first couple of weeks challenging as well.
I will give an outline of the main things I did each week below. There were a million small things that came up on a daily basis too (as is the case in any classroom), but I will stick to the main things here.
We did a lot of firefighting and management of very challenging behaviour in the first few weeks of school, so we didn’t begin what an inspector might deem proper “work” until the end of September. By proper “work” I mean following a social skills programme/ Starting literacy & numeracy instruction/ explicitly teaching a skill that was a child’s IEP target. I wasn’t overly worried about this, as September was used to set up the foundations for learning that were needed for the rest of the year. The children weren’t in a place to learn until the routines/ visuals were set up, and most of all, for them to feel comfortable with myself and the SNAs so there was no point in launching into a social skills programme straight away.
What I did each week…
The week before returning to school:
- I spent 2 days in school, moving my teaching resources into my new room, putting them away, cleaning the room, creating provisional timetables for myself and the SNAs, meeting the mainstream class teachers that the children would integrate to, and planning some basic activities for the first week.
- I created a hard copy folder for each child with space for inserting their professional reports, Support Plan, meeting notes, PPP etc.
- I read, then scanned and uploaded all of the children’s professional reports onto Aladdin and created a file there for recording behaviour incidents and observations (we use Aladdin for recording everything in my school). It is extra work to get everything uploaded there, but it is so helpful for future teachers to be able to look back on previous IEPs, read notes of meetings with parents etc.
Week 1 of school:
- The first week was all about helping the children to settle in, getting to know them and helping them to feel comfortable in school.
- We did a lot of play, used the sensory room and introduced some basic routines e.g. using “now/ next/ then” visuals and rules. I found Twinkl very handy for basic templates for these and I used photographs of our actual spaces and resources with them (pictured).
- I set up a Class Dojo page to communicate with the children’s parents.
- I created a timetable for use of the sensory and exercise (OT) rooms as there are a lot of children in the mainstream as well as the other Autism class who need to use them too.
- I created social stories for the children on how to use the sensory and exercise (OT) rooms, as well as visuals for the rules for using them appropriately.
- I placed orders for basic resources that we needed: ear defenders, therabands, timers, theraputty, fidget toys, therapy balls etc.
- I set up a “Calm Corner” in my classroom and well as a similar space in the mainstream classed of any of my children who needed a safe space when they were integrating.
- I began assessing the children so I would know where to start with their IEP targets.
- I started some paperwork and made sure it was uploaded to Aladdin: Basic Needs Checklists, Learning Environment Checklists, My Thoughts About School Checklist. I have these available to download for free as fully editable Word Documents here if anyone needs them.
- I ordered more resources as I discovered what we needed based on the children’s assessments: Handwriting Without Tears workbooks, Toe by Toe Workbooks etc.
- We learned about the class rules and I created visuals for them.
- I ordered assistive technology for a child that had been sanctioned over the summer and got it set up for him.
- I created a folder for each child for the SNAs. It included the timetables for myself and the SNAs, the child’s Personal Pupil Plan, their OT schools programme (click here for a free sample one), their care needs notes, incident reports, and their social stories. We agreed that all of the children’s social stories will be added to this folder throughout the year so that if we need to refer back to one, we have them easily available. The folders would also be useful for when there is a substitute SNA in so they would have the information needed about the children.
- I continued with assessing the children as well as carrying out observations of their behaviour on yard so that I could see which areas to prioritise for their IEP targets.
- As I got to know them more, I was able to identify what rewards would work best with them. I set up their “choice time” visuals (Twinkl was great for templates as pictured and I photographed the actual rewards) and bought any resources that we needed for rewards.
- I got the children’s visual timetables up and running. They took ages to do as I had to photograph everything to include in them, then insert the photos into a Word Document, format them and print them. The SNAs helped with the cutting/ laminating and velcroing.
- I set up the children’s individual work stations with drawers to keep the resources for each of the areas that they are working on.
- I changed my timetable and the SNA timetables as the initial ones weren’t best meeting the children’s needs.
- I created social stories/ visuals/ supports based on issues as they arose. It felt like there were things cropping up every day that needed to be addressed ASAP and I found it quite stressful as I knew I could help the children if I just had the time to make the resources. But there were so many issues cropping up each day that I had to really prioritise what the greatest issues were (usually anything safety related came first).
- I began meeting the children’s parents along with the SNAs and mainstream class teachers to give an update on how they had settled back into school, and to agree on IEP targets for the year.
- I began typing up the children’s support plans and sent a copy home to their parents. It took me until the October break to get all of their paper work finished and uploaded to Aladdin. I used the School Support Plus template for my planning, however the IEP template can also be used. I have samples of both options available here.
- I have a free guide on how to complete a support plan using the NEPS Student Support File template here if you haven’t done one before.
- I filled out and sent in a second assistive technology application for another student in my class. If you need to fill out one of these applications and are unsure how to do it, I have a separate blog post on this here.
- I created a “sub folder” for any days that I would be out of school. It had pictures of the children and their names, pictures of their mainstream class teachers and their names, picture of the SNAs and their names, and it also had pictures of the doors of the mainstream classes that each child integrated into so that the sub would easily be able to find their way around. The folder also gave any important information about the children (allergies, behaviour plans) and an outline of what to do if I was out unexpectedly and there wasn’t planned work left to do.
- I created Individual Behaviour Plans for 2 of my students along with their mainstream teachers and SNAs. I spoke with the NEPS psychologist and attended an evening course on “emotion coaching” which was included in the IBPs. The NCSE has some useful information about how to create an IBP here.
- I did a fantastic 2-day NCSE course for new ASD class teachers. I got some great ideas/ tips and I shared some of them with the SNAs. NCSE CPD courses can be booked on the “Teachers” section of NCSE.ie and I would highly recommend them for all teachers. I had done most of their autism courses already, but I continue to do regular CPD as I take something new away each time.
- After the course, I organised for a NCSE behaviour advisor to visit us in November for support with one of our students. School support from the NCSE can be requested through the NCSE website.
- I organised the resources I needed for starting the Zones of Regulation Programme after the October break.
- I did new timetables for myself and the SNAs for after the October break. While it is a pain having to re-do timetables, if something isn’t working for the children, it needs to be changed to best meet their needs.
So, there you have it, a basic overview of the main things I did for my first 8 weeks in an Autism class. At times, I felt like I would never get on top of things, but looking at it written here, I can see that I achieved a lot. The biggest issue I had was that I knew each job was really important and the sooner I could get each thing done, then the sooner it would help the children so it was hard to prioritise what to do first. I still have a load of things on my to do list for the rest of the year, but I know I will get to them in time. It’s definitely a marathon, not a race. I hope that was helpful, and if you have started in an autism class too, I would love to hear how you have gotten on either in the comments below, or you can send me a message on Instagram or Facebook!