Q&A with a Yr 10 student with SEND. Discussing behaviour, support, friendships.
By J who has diagnoses of ASD, ADHD, Tourette’s, Dyspraxia and has an EHCP.
In an attempt to gain his authentic voice and opinions, J's responses have not been edited. Reasonable adjustments used during this session can be found at the end of this Q&A.
J attended a maintained specialist ASD provision for KS1 & KS2 (infants and juniors) and is now attending a maintained ASD unit attached to a mainstream academy school. J is now integrating into the mainstream classes for GCSEs
What was it like when you started at your school?
When I started, they left me be. I could chill out. I didn’t really talk in year 7. I observe people before talking.
What did they do that helped you?
I had my phone (for music) and told me to go to the chill-out room (sensory room) if I got stressed and I used to sit on the floor at the back of the classroom to do my work cos it was quieter there. Year 8 I talked a bit and now I don’t stop talking.
What’s it like having to make new friends?
I’m rubbish at small-talk or starting conversations and keeping them going, so if it gets awkward I either stay silent, I joke about something or say something random. That usually works.
I stick to ppl who are like me. I’m a genius at school knowledge (academic) but I’m rubbish at practical knowledge like social, everyday stuff that I need in real life. I still try I’m just not good at it.
What does it feel like - to find social and everyday conversations difficult?
I guess mainly if I haven’t heard of a topic I will usually be in the back nodding, but if they ask me for my opinion and I haven’t really been listening, I kinda go ‘OOOHHHH!’
Your new school is really big, how does that feel?
First it freeked me out but I know where to go now so I’m more chilled.
Can you remember what helped you?
My TAs helped because they always walk around with me, so I don’t really think about it. I know the place like the back of my hand now so it’s not really a worry anymore.
Do you like having a TA with you?
Yes. Certain lessons I like it. Art, maths, history, science.
What do your TAs do?
They’ll check on us and make sure we’re doing ok. My TAs help the rest of the class too and that’s ok.
Is there anywhere in school that you don’t like going to?
Cafeteria. I’ve only been in there once. The area is quite loud, and I don’t like eating in public. restaurants are ok but not in school.
Is your new school better or worse than your old school?
Noise still bothers me and I still get headaches but I’m good at keeping calm now. I get annoyed but I don’t lose it really anymore.
What might happen if you ‘lost it’ at school?
I don’t want to think about it. I don’t know and I want to keep it that way cos if I did something wrong, it depends on the outcome. I think about the outcome more than the actual thing which is why I don’t do much. It’s kinda hard to do something wrong if you don’t do anything.
What would you change at your school?
Expectations in general. Academic and behaviour.
What do you think about the behaviour rules?
They aren’t justified for everyone and some people think too much about sticking to the rules and that kind of puts them in the position they’re trying to not be in.
How do the rules make you feel?
I do get frustrated very easily because the rules depend on the teacher. You could have one teacher who follows them to the letter and one who sees they’re ridiculous. Some bend them to fit their mood and their expectations of the students.
Have you broken any rules at school?
Don’t know, probably. Some teachers shout about stuff and make up rules.
Can you give an example?
A kid picked up a pencil off the floor and got shouted at. Stupid if that’s a rule. It’s like they shout about anything.
Do you think something else might have happened which made that teacher angry?
Don’t know but if it’s a rule they should say it is.
How does it make you feel?
Don’t know. Not good. It’s like they don’t respect us and sometimes it isn’t fair. Some kids are annoying and do things to wind the teacher up, but they go to isolation and it doesn’t change anything. Some kids are sent to isolation for stupid things. It’s not fair.
What do you think isolation is like?
Don’t know and don’t want to think about it.
What do you do at school to avoid getting into trouble?
My rucksack weighs like 10kg.
Why is it so heavy?
So I don’t forget my books I take all of them everywhere with me. I take my revision stuff too, so I don’t forget that - in case I need it in my lesson. They freek out too much about organisation but that depends on the teacher too. Overall the rules are based on each class you’re in.
Is organisation difficult for you?
Which rules help you to learn best?
If the teacher makes the student enjoy the lesson they will learn, and they will respect the teacher. I don’t think the curriculum is helpful. It’s all based on memory and my memory isn’t that good.
Do you know what helps?
If the teacher tells us what we’re going to do and gives us examples. Shows me how to do it, stops us every once in a while, and if we’ve got it wrong, they show us again.
Do you think that's kindness or being a good teacher?
Both really. If the teacher genuinely enjoys being there, they will get more into the lesson and teach their students. I used to have teachers who would show us at the beginning and leave us with a textbook for the rest of the lesson. I don’t learn that way. There has to be a practical element for me to remember it.
Do you feel you could talk to your teachers about this?
Some teachers you can’t approach. They say don’t do this or that and do it themselves. Like shouting “EVERYONE STOP SHOUTING!” Just shouting at your students to learn won’t actually make them learn or respect you. They won’t enjoy your lesson. They’ll go to the lesson thinking “ok, so I’m going to this lesson just to get shouted at”. Teachers need to get on the student’s level and think about how the student is thinking in this lesson. Once they actually understand that, they’ll be able to actually talk to that student and they’ll actually remember stuff.
How does that make you feel?
What happens when you get stressed out?
My friends know. I talk to them because I don’t want to lose it and freek out at them. Sometimes I let the teacher know to “leave me be” in the lesson if they ask but that depends on the teacher. I’ve had mellow teachers but there will be certain teachers that if you ask anything other than to do with the lesson, they will just shout at you and stuff, so I don’t bother.
What might happen then?
It will lead down to bad stuff and I will get even more angry
When that happens, can you still do your schoolwork?
If I’m interested in the subject I’ll get on with it and finish it off. But if it’s like an equation that will confuse me I won’t bother with it. I’ll just leave it because I will end up freeking out even more and flipping the table or something.
Can you explain what freeking out feels like for you?
I see myself as a committing person so when I get angry, I don’t care or think and it just gets worse and worse and worse. I don’t listen to people when I’m angry. I can’t listen. I have one thought in my head and follow that thought. I get really, like, single-minded and if anyone gets in the way of that thought, that gets bad as well. I have a select few people who know how to calm me down, so I go to them.
Are they children or adults?
Do you have to wait until the lesson finished for help to calm down?
Do you think your teachers are good with young people who have SEN?
Some are. Some treat you with respect, but some treat you like you’re five years old and others don’t understand some things we do we can’t actually help. They need to understand we have issues which others don’t.
How do you think teachers could be better at this?
They need to treat us as students like everyone else, but also just understand that we have issues.
Do you think it’s difficult for teachers working with young people who have additional needs?
Don't know. Once they understand the actual issue then they can adapt to that, but just not treat us like we’re brainless.
How could teachers find out about those issues?
Right before they get the student, they can at least be informed.
Who do you think should inform them?
I don’t know.
Do you think the students should inform them?
What if they asked, ‘how can we support you in school’?
I wouldn’t care for it, but if I had to, like, if a teacher had a problem and wanted me to explain, then I would. A student shouldn’t be the one to tell the teacher how to teach them. It’s kinda their job.
Do you think that's related to what you said earlier about conversations being difficult?
Don’t think so. Don’t know. I’m rubbish at them. I’m better if they ask me stuff but there’s things I don’t want to talk about. Depends who it is. Depends how they talk to me. I like things written down and I don’t like being put in situations I’m not prepared for.
Is there anything you'd like to achieve before leaving school?
Trying not to overthink everything and be confident in my abilities. Get decent grades and I’ll be fine.
What do you want to do when you leave school?
I’m always being asked this, and I hate it. I don’t know. It stresses me out. I just say I'm going to be a professional free-loader or a stay at home son.
What do they do when you say that?
They mainly laugh.
How would you describe 'a good teacher'?
Being able to connect with students and getting on their level. A teacher needs to think about how the student is feeling, know how they learn and be able to do this for multiple students. A teacher needs to suit the lesson to all of the students, except for just sticking to the simple curriculum, then the students will individually learn the things they need to learn. Students will all find it difficult, but they will ALL learn and remember it, rather than only 3 students acing everything and the others being absolutely clueless.
Reasonable adjustments used:
- J struggles with auditory memory, therefore, when asking questions, pauses were used and time was given for him to process what had been asked and to think of a response.
- Due to his auditory memory difficulties and also as he has attention differences, questions were written on a wipeable whiteboard - which also supported him to focus only on the current question.
- J thinks and speaks very fast, so his responses were repeated back to him in order to confirm they were exactly what he wanted to say.
- J's anxiety was constantly monitored throughout. To avoid any stress, questions were asked during short sessions spanning over a period of weeks - rather than during one session. J doesn't always demonstrate his emotions in 'typical' ways, therefore, before beginning a short session, J was first asked if he wanted to engage and was told that he could refuse to answer anything he didn't feel comfortable with.
- J often struggles with verbal interactions and is a literal thinker. Therefore, some of the questions above have 'sub-questions'. These were to ensure J had understood what was being asked and also to provide more detail to avoid readers implying/applying meaning.
- J was given paper to doodle/sketch on during sessions to support his focus and auditory skills. We were also sat side by side which reduced the need for eye contact and helped make the interactions more comfortable for him.
- J is very much an 'in-the-now' thinker and as the questions were asked over a period of time, he was provided with a printed copy - which was read to him, before posting - This gave him an opportunity to edit, add or remove anything he wasn't comfortable with.