Austin is a 15-year-old boy who has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). He is in Year 9 at a mainstream secondary school. When Austin commenced at the school, he spent most of his time alone and did not engage in social play. Austin participated in a social skills program facilitated by the school counsellor in Year 8 and now he is in Year 9, plays football and socialises with boys in his year group.
Austin has difficulty communicating verbally, which has been evident since primary school. He most often uses other modes of communication, including gestures and vocalisations. Academically, Austin is functioning approximately a year below expected for his age. He will tell another student if he needs something rather than saying anything publicly in front of a larger group of people. Austin has been accessing an NDIS-funded speech pathologist outside school hours since Year 7. The speech pathologist provides the school with a summary report and recommendations at the start of each term.
Austin is hypersensitive to sensory stimuli so he leaves lessons several times a day on average to go to the Student Services room when his senses become overwhelmed (for example, if the classroom becomes too noisy). He has an exit card that he presents to his teacher when he needs to leave the lesson. His attendance is recorded by a staff member working in the Student Services room. Austin no longer uses noise-cancelling headphones when he feels overwhelmed; instead he uses breathing strategies and other self-calming techniques he learnt in the social skills program. Once he feels settled, Austin notifies the supervising teacher that he is ready to return to his lesson (usually after approximately 15 minutes). Teachers provide Austin with work ahead of time where possible and check in with him during most lessons to ascertain whether he is keeping up with the pace of the lesson and to ensure he is able to catch up on work missed when he attends the Student Services room.
Austin’s classes for science, technology, food technology and physical education include support from a teacher assistant to monitor Austin’s sensory input. The teacher assistant works on activities with Austin in a small group, as directed by the teacher in a collaborative web-based document shared with the teacher assistant. The teacher assistant uses verbal prompts to assist Austin with self-regulation and calming strategies he can employ if he feels he needs a break. The teacher assistant uses a web-based document to record support provided to Austin and triggers that may have been overwhelming for him, so the teacher is aware of adjustments that may be needed in subsequent lessons. Teachers advise Austin of any change to routine to prevent sensory overload. This is the first year Austin has been able to go into the science laboratory and school cooking classroom, with support, due to his acute sensitivity to smell.
Austin completes timed assessments in the Student Services room, where he has the opportunity to take rest breaks. Curriculum content is differentiated, with a focus on reducing the volume of work required of Austin. Teachers note adjustments on their lesson plans and provide input to learning goals, which are recorded on his personalised learning plan (PLP) and reviewed at the end of each semester.
The Student Support Leader collaborates with teachers and Austin’s family to prepare social scripts when there is a change to the usual school routine or a new activity is planned, such as an excursion. An additional staff member attends on these occasions and monitors Austin, offering assistance if Austin becomes overwhelmed.
All adjustments are documented in Austin’s PLP, which is created by the Student Support Team (the team includes deputy of teaching and learning, the learning support teacher, head of wellbeing and the school counsellor) and is made available to staff through the school’s learning management system. The PLP also provides background information on Austin’s support needs and recommendations regarding educational adjustments he may benefit from.
The PLP is reviewed twice a year in a Student Support Group meeting with members of the Student Support Team including the learning support teacher, along with Austin’s parents.