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Podcast Show Notes

Episode 1:

Welcome! Today we get a brief introduction to the show hosts Bridget Young and Jack Gibbs. 


Bridget is the Head Teacher of the Holmewood School (THSL). Whilst she is neurotypical, she has dedicated much of her career to advancing her learning and creating best practices and frameworks to get the best out of our autistic students. Jack is a teacher at THSL and has a diagnosis of autism, ADHD, OCD and dyspraxia (DCD) alongside motor and verbal tics.


As 1/100 people are diagnosed as autistic globally, we are now at a point where the world is ready to move on from just knowing autism exists, to understanding and accepting it. As a specialist school for autistic individuals, THSL needs to do better than awareness and acceptance, we need to deliver programmes specifically for the autistic learner. As there is no guidebook on how to do this for our niche, we have created our own way of working, which is what will be covered, amongst other things, on our podcast.


So, what exactly is pedagogy? No it isn’t to do with feet…it is the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept.


Neurodiversity refers to the concept that certain developmental differences are actually normal variations of the brain and people who have these features also have certain strengths. Neurodiversity commonly refers to those who are autistic, have ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia (DCD) etc.


Dr. John Biddulph lectures in autism and is autistic himself, describes autism as multi-dimensional rather than a spectrum. Thus showing that the language around neurodiversity should, and is, changing. At THSL, we have moved away from language such as Autism Spectrum Disorder and high-functioning autism, as it points to deficits rather than strengths.


We tend to refer to our students as having ‘subtle but significant differences’ - a term taken from ‘Social Thinking’ created by Michelle Garcia-Winner and Dr. Pamela Crooke ( 


Today we are going to show the ND Support Framework by using it alongside the example of travelling and travel training. How did you manage to learn to travel? Most neurotypical individuals learn through osmosis from their parents/carers, as well as making mistakes and learning from them. But this isn’t always possible for neurodiverse individuals. Here’s where the ND Support Framework comes into play:


Step 1 - Explaining the relevance of the topic:


As many neurodiverse individuals have barriers to osmosis learning, like anxiety, attention and focus challenges, literal understanding and social communication. The key to teaching autistic individuals is ‘buy in’ through special interests, or a means to get to a special interest in the case of travel.


Step 2 - Explicit teaching:


Spell it out. Don’t assume prior knowledge, social understanding or understanding of unspoken rules. Minimise or if needed, fully explain, analogies. Think about all the possible sensory/noise issues that could be encountered e.g. noise, crowds, smells on the underground to help with preparedness.


Step 3 - Practise the skills in a safe environment:


Putting the theory into practice and being able to experience things that can and will go wrong in life. Whilst starting off with as much help and support as possible, the aim is to reduce to allow independence. Failure is a key part of this, for example, travelling in the wrong direction, getting the wrong bus or train or allowing the student to miss their stop if they hadn’t noticed. Then allowing them to start to course-correct, all with the safety of a familiar person with them.


Step 4 - Generalising the skills:


How would this skill work in other environments? This is where you step away and allow the student to completely prepare for a trip from start to finish on a new route. But still being present and gradually increasing that independence to solo travel if possible.


Step 5 - Respond positively to success and failure:


Create an understanding that failures will happen, but it isn’t always your fault - train strikes, diversions, missed stops etc. all add to this. When celebrating success, ensure the praise is measured, as the successes of travelling are part of life too and we don’t want to create a false expectation for the future.


We hope you enjoyed our first episode and hope you look forward to the next!

If you have any questions or comments, please do reach out at

Episode 2:


One of the criteria for this diagnosis of autism according to the DSM-5 is “highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus”, which can paint autism in a negative light. We want to discuss that not everything should be seen as a deficit, when the pleasure and passion an autistic person’s interest can bring and the subsequent connections that can be made by engaging with those interests.


Is building relationships with Neurodiverse (ND) individuals difficult considering they have a difficulty with social communication and interaction? Well, relationships are difficult to build regardless of being neurotypical or ND, but there is the misconception that an autistic individual either can’t or doesn’t want to form relationships, which isn’t true. It’s about finding the right way for them to be able to build relationships and to further encourage them to build healthy relationships.


There is a common misconception that those who are autistic lack empathy, but it is more of a double empathy problem (Dr Damien Milton). Both parties will misunderstand each other's thoughts and feelings, behaviours and differences; which means it’s not just the autistic individual's problem. An autistic person may struggle to read between the lines, deal with preconceptions of autism or manage sensory distractions. A neurotypical person may struggle to form a positive impression of an autistic individual, may not recognise or understand their point of view (or understand autism at all) and not recognise the sensory issues present. Therefore it is easy to understand why difficulties can arise - “without commonality all minds are blind to each other” and we therefore should all be considering all difficulties when building relationships.


We find that sometimes empathy isn’t shown within the school because all of our students are autistic and therefore the knowledge and understanding of each other’s needs is inherently there. They understand the differences and difficulties so may not react to others so much, which allows everyone else to carry on with their day. We also have less of a double empathy problem as all staff are aware of everyone’s diagnosis as well as being highly trained and engaged with autism practice.


Examples of relationships built in the school:


When Jack was working with a year 4 student, he found himself on the wrong side of what our therapists called a ‘split’. The student had formed a strong attachment to one member of staff and on the opposite end, despised Jack. He later found out that it was because his hands were too hot when providing sensory hand massages. The student eventually told this to Jack, so the massages stopped and were replaced with chats. This led to building a great relationship with the student, despite not being able to keep up with his ever-changing and unshared special interests.


Step 1 - Explain the relevance:


A lot of our students have had some sort of trauma around education. The vast majority of our students have come to us after having been bullied and grow to feel a sense of belonging at Holmewood. We create this by taking the time to really build relationships with each student and maintain consistency. This means you need to be willing to put a bit more time into these individuals as this will pay dividends. 


Step 2 - Explicit teaching:


Autistic people don’t usually deny their own needs, values and interests. So they will typically come to a relationship in a more authentic way. This means they are less prone to adapt their preferences to external influences, which means it is important to not underestimate being yourself when building these relationships. Staff should feel ok to talk about their own strengths and barriers to help the young people feel empowered to discuss theirs, which in turn will help to further build relationships.


Step 3 - Practise the skills in a safe environment:


The person who built the relationship is the safe environment for the autistic individual. Especially if you’ve been working with them from a young age. You want them to be able to have this experience to show them they can build relationships, and be encouraged to build relationships elsewhere. This is where the staff/adult needs to recognise when to move away to allow this to happen elsewhere, which should actively be encouraged.


However it is important to remember that boundaries are important to have in place despite building closer relationships with these individuals.


Step 4 - Generalising the skills:


Important to remember that not everything is positive throughout these journeys, but this is indicative of relationships the world over. These ‘blips’ are important to demonstrate and work to move forward, thus modelling relationships that can occur elsewhere. This means that having and maintaining that relationship with the young person during these difficulties is incredibly important.


Step 5 - Respond positively to success and failure:


There’s a fine line between success and failure. It can be tempting to pull the plug on a relationship quite quickly if it doesn’t seem to be working and allow a different person to try instead. But relationships take time, so you need to find the right balance, before deciding to move on - not a simple task. If the growth isn’t there quickly or tapers off after a longer period of time, then it may be best to see if another adult is better able to grow the relationship. This links back to the beginning of the episode where we spoke about the double empathy problem; as ND individuals may not ‘package’ their conversation as expected, so additional chances or tries may be needed to start to build that relationship. Or you would need to change your perception of relationships and how they are built in order to better engage and connect with an ND individual.


If you have any questions or comments, please do reach out at

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