How our mini reporters with autism have inspired the way we deliver Media Cubs

Kirsty Day, project leader of Media Cubs, shares her thoughts on having an inclusive newsroom this Autism Awareness Day, and how our facilitators are geared up to ensure that this happens.

There is a place for everyone in our newsroom – that is the Media Cubs motto.

One in every 100 children is autistic and almost three quarters go to mainstream schools. So, it is vitally important to us to make sure we have a good understanding of each individual child in our newsroom to make sure we live up to this motto.

We’ve been inspired by all of our mini reporters and, in true director style, their experiences have informed the way we deliver our Media Cubs pop-up TV studio and newsroom.  

Building on the feedback from our mini reporters, we worked with Seamus Mannion from SendCoders to make sure we were doing all that we could to create an inclusive environment that supported young people who have varying levels of autism or other special educational needs.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far:

  • Get to know our mini reporters: 

Critical to the success of every Media Cubs club is tapping into each child’s interests – whether that be Pokémon or politics – to ignite their love of news-making. It is also critical that we understand not only their interests, but how they like to learn and how best to support them to do so. Our first sessions always have a task that means we get a profile of each child, so we know what they enjoy but also so we know how to cater for their educational needs, whether that be that they need to wear glasses, need a timeout during the session or need to get up from their desk frequently to walk around.

Our Media Cubs profiles certainly help us to understand how to accommodate each person’s needs, whether that be sensory needs or movement breaks and to understand how each child likes to learn, how can we support them and understand what makes them happy.

This applies to all children that we work with and is great to have a structure in place, but we always have in our minds that each child is unique and what works for one autistic young person may not work for another.

One other thing that we have also learnt is that teachers and schools should hold information about any special educational needs that a child may have but you are not always informed as a matter of course, so our leaders always make sure they ask the question before starting a club.

  • Offer routine – as well as options 

Just like a real newsroom, there are a range of tasks that need to be completed in the Media Cubs pop-up TV studio and newsroom that provides our mini reporters with choice and variety. We organise these into ‘activity stations’ so that our mini reporters have structure and choice on media tasks that they want to perform – this also provides them with a format that they will know they can stick to – so as to maintain a routine for the sessions that is easy to follow.

The stations also offer options for a mini reporter to change tasks if they feel overwhelmed; for example, by taking themselves away from the hustle and bustle of the TV studio to create a comic strip. 

But we do also want to try and push our mini reporters out of their comfort zones and create challenges to try new things to build resilience, confidence and ambitions – so the range of activity stations gives them a new challenge to work towards – with the aim of each mini reporter having a go at each station by the time they complete the programme and also offer opportunities to work in pairs or build up to tasks so they do not become overwhelmed.

Following the young person’s lead, rather than always directing them can also help. They will then be more likely to pay attention to the activity, more likely to focus on the same thing as you and will learn how to make choices for themselves.

  • Vary the way you communicate 

As with any newsroom, group conversations and debates can get lively! To encourage participation in group conversations, we use the Media Cubs ‘mic’: someone must be holding the mic to have their turn at speaking. We also use visual prompts and board games to structure ‘turn taking’ in the newsroom. 

How questions are structured is an important learning point in our newsroom to get the most out of interviews for your news story or bulletin, and we have also learnt from the young people with autism that we work with that question structure can hinder or aid their learning experience. 

Breaking down questions and keeping them short helps -as does having questions that offer options or choices. For example, ask Did you enjoy presenting? Did you enjoy doing a comic strip? Rather than Did you enjoy Media Cubs today?

We vary the types of communication we use as well, for example, visual, verbal/non-verbal, by using handouts, showing videos and with pictures for visual cues. 

We take on many roles in the newsroom; from presenter to photographer and this role play can also be useful to model social interactions and help to expire how things can go wrong and what to avoid or how an activity or communication went well – this will change from person to person.

  • Give rewards

Each Media Cub reporter gets a Reward Chart to work towards. At the end of each session the mini boss for that week helps to decide what we have achieved from the rewards and they are rewarded with a sticker and a tick on the chart.

Rewards recognise the Media Cubs values that have been demonstrated by our mini reporters: listening to others, debating, kindness, problem solving, teamwork, creativity, courage, and leadership. These all relate to one or more of our Media Cubs characters who are role models in the newsroom and can act as a prompt throughout the sessions to ask, “What Would Our Media Cubs Jack, Archie and Cece do in this situation?” They really relate to the characters – and always want a sticker!

The leader also keeps a note of which challenges mini reporters have joined in with or not to help them work towards them, and at the end of the course, they get a personal report on their reward chart and a certificate of graduation.   

Rewards can increase the likelihood that a mini reporter will try a task again and by using praise and commenting on what has been achieved, the person can make a connection between their own actions and specific words.

This Autism Awareness Day, April 2, which is part of  World Autism Awareness Week (March 30 to April 5) The National Autism Society has a range of free resources for schools (autism.org.uk/SAAW), including lesson plans, videos and posters as well as resources on how to help a child with autism during these unusual circumstances due to coronavirus and the changes that may have made to a routine https://www.autism.org.uk/services/helplines/coronavirus.aspx

They also asked autistic people what the key things that they would like the public to know about them. Below are the top five: 

Autistic people may:

  1. Feel anxiety about changes or unexpected events
  2. Be under or over sensitive to sound, smells, light, taste and touch. This is called sensory sensitivity.
  3. Need time to process information, like questions or instructions
  4. Face high levels of anxiety in social situations
  5. Have difficulties communicating and interacting with others

For more information on Media Cubs visit www.mediacubs.co.uk or contact Kirsty on team@mediacubs.co.uk