This year we have seen Anne Hegerty (aka The Governess) join the jungle! Anne received a diagnosis of Aspergers, a form of Autism, in 2003 at the age of 45. Aspergers can make communicating and social situations difficult to understand. During her time in the jungle, Anne has opened up about her Aspergers and her campmates have rallied around her, supporting her at every hurdle. Anne’s willingness to be open about her Aspergers on national TV has been fantastic in raising awareness of Autism, especially in females!
I’m sure we all appreciate it would be extremely difficult to go into the jungle as a person with autism, but have you ever thought about how similar the jungle is to the classroom?!?
How was Anne’s experience similar to that of a child at school?
The jungle environment is extremely busy and can cause our senses to go into overdrive. The celebs must adapt to:
New background noises e.g. people snoring and birds chirping.
The new weather conditions i.e. high temperatures and rain downpours.
Smells (not just the dunny – but the whiff of the unwashed campmates!)
Similarly, school environments can also cause an autistic child to experience sensory overload!
A variety of noises – talking, bells ringing, clocks which can feel as if they are ticking way too loudly
Lots of colours – bright displays in classrooms and corridors, clothes/uniforms of different colours and patterns.
Smells – the school canteen is filled with smells of packed lunches and hot dinners and the changing rooms after PE is a cocktail of sweat, deodorants and perfumes!
Temperatures – is the classroom too hot or too cold?
Click here to learn how you can make your classroom communication and sensory friendly
The celebrities in the jungle also experience a lack of sleep. The celebs are sleeping outside, on hammocks, camping beds or even the floor so it is unsurprising they become tired and irritable! Children with autism can also experience difficulties sleeping which affects their concentration and mood the following day in school.
Some of the reasons people with autism struggle to sleep are around not understanding the need for sleep, or picking up the cue that everyone else in the house is going to bed so they should too. There is also research to suggest that people with autism can experience irregular secretion of the sleep hormone melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone which tells the body when it is time to sleep.
Each day, the jungle holds a sense of the unknown for the celebrities – who will be completing the bush tucker trial? Will anyone be leaving? What will they have to eat? This lack of structure and change in day to day routine can feel catastrophic to a person with autism, who like to have a set plan and routine so they know what to expect.
In a classroom, a change like having a supply teacher, the time of assembly being changed, or the fact your Mum has packed a sandwich with cheese instead of ham can feel as bad as being told you have to do a bushtucker trial!
Bushtucker trials aside, in the jungle Anne is faced with not being able to choose what food she is given to eat, she may be given ostrich or crocodile, which are foods which are new to her and push her out of her comfort zone (we have to say though she did a FANTASTIC job on the blended fish eyes)!
At school, imagine that the dinner lady puts beans and fish fingers on your plate – some children would rather eat the blended fish eyes than eat 2 different foods that are touching each other. Even with a packed lunch, perhaps the texture of the bread is too hard or the lettuce too soft, causing sensory issues.
Living with celebrities must be difficult, all those big personalities and for the person with autism it is difficult to interpret what they are thinking! Did Nick give me the pillow because he is a nice person or because he has a game plan and wants to win? Anne also has to engage in small talk with all these new people whilst being judged by the nation. A challenge for anyone!
In the classroom, was that ‘banter’ that the boy in the class used, or was he being serious? Why is the teacher asking what I had for lunch? Is this important to my work? The child with autism is facing just as many difficulties as Anne is with her communication every day at school.
How can we help children with autism?
Here are some strategies to consider:
Visual time tables can help children to understand what will be happening throughout the school day. In the morning, spending time reading through the timetable with the child to help prepare them for any changes in the school day.
Social stories are a great way of introducing a change in routine. They are short descriptions of a particular situation, with or without the support of pictures or symbols. They provide specific information about what the child needs to expect and why, as well as some advice on how to act.
Parents/carers can support at home by practicing routines at home. Having a visual timetable at home of what will be happening that day e.g which lessons, will help the pupil organise their thoughts and what they need to take to school that day.
Discussing common idioms and explaining sarcasm in films or TV programmes may be useful to aid peer interaction and help with conversation blocks.
Allow extra processing time for the child to think about what they have been asked to do and form a response, children with autism can need just that little bit longer.
For difficulties sleeping, relaxation techniques such as having a bath, quiet time or gentle exercise such as yoga, can help to wind down before bedtime. It can also be good to avoid any sensory issues by getting black out blinds and avoiding uncomfortable pyjamas.
If the child becomes overwhelmed in the classroom, try providing them with a ‘time out’ card and agreeing on a place for them to go, to feel calm and safe.
Consider a speech and language therapy assessment, not only looking at the child’s understanding and use of language, but also pragmatic language (understanding to use different language at different times and with different people) and social skills too.