Ollie interviewed the self-proclaimed ‘Autistic Genius’, Tom Bowes this week in a great interview about the condition and what we should, as teachers and human beings, be doing about it.
Often, Tom says, people focus on the autism and not the individual. He points out that autism isn’t a behavioural issue but it can cause behavioural issues. It is, rather, a cognitive issue.
Tom doesn’t think it’s possible to stop people reacting with labels because of the way humans’ brains work – everyone always tries to fill in the gaps. We will never fully understand autism because it is a unique condition in each person who has it. All Tom can suggest is to focus on the small number of people we come into contact with who have autism and this can take a burden off parents and others.
Most research has been done with men and so most people believe autism is more common in men but that’s not necessarily true.
Simon Barron-Cohen, clinical psychologist, professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, says there are three types of brain:
- Female – empathic
- Male – logical
- Autistic – over-logical – a man’s brain x 2!
Anxiety, autism and mental health
Anxiety is heavily linked to autism. When a new situation happens, different autistic genders react differently – in fact in opposite ways:
- Male – say ‘no’ or hide
- Female – say ‘yes’ to everything which them builds up and up as anxiety
This has an impact on female autistic people’s mental healthy.
How can we make classrooms more inclusive and celebratory of all kinds of difference, including autism?
Tom believes that there are too many children in a class at the moment. There’s too much going on for autistic learners.
Also, Tom works with children and tells them about autism, often before or instead of working with adults in a school. This means that they understand about the condition and can then be advocates for inclusion.
“All kids need to know is that it means [children with autism] think differently.”
Tom points out that the way autistic people react to needs is different and it can be completely contradictory between individuals. Some may never feel sick and then suddenly be sick, others may be much more sensitive to feeling like nausea. Some may feel temperature very acutely, others hardly at all.
Change is often difficult in school and elsewhere for autistic people. However, Tom advocates not avoiding change for autistic children but rather teaching them how to cope with it because there will always be change. Often autistic children lack the imagination to workout what to do in a changing situation. They can be taught however, and won’t be upset to be treated in this way. Also, the autistic brain is incapable of transferring skills which the child may be brilliant at in one context to a different context. It sees them as different skills.
“[People without autism] pick up things as they go but autistic people don’t – they need to be told it.”
3 Tips for supporting learners with autism
- The 8 Second Rule – autistic people need up to 8 seconds to respond to any kind of question – if you jump in with another question or helpful comment, it ‘deletes’ what was there before
- Be patient
Tom’s web places: