Children with autistic spectrum condition (ASC) can have a real sparkle and interest in the world around them but it can be hard for them to flourish in our education system which can seem unpredictable and overwhelming.
The challenge for these pupils is to fulfil their potential in education while retaining and valuing their uniqueness. The challenge we face as educators is how to place value on these differences while accommodating an individual with difference in a system that groups children according to their similarities.
We can start by making our classrooms as inclusive as possible, so here are my top ten tips for making your classroom autism-friendly.
1 Build a relationship bridge
Children with autism do not easily build relationships with others so try to help build that relationship bridge. Make sure that you have an opportunity to share the pupil’s main interest early on.
2 Adjust for sensory differences
Account and make adjustments where possible for discomfort due to sensory differences that push the pupil to the extremity of their ability to cope. For example, they may be sound-sensitive or struggle to cope in busy or visually distracting spaces.
3 Order of the day
Use a visual timetable to provide structure and reduce stress due to unexpected changes in routine and complicated transitions. These pictures or symbols need to be ordered to show the sequence of the day or activity and should be removed when the task or lesson is finished.
4 Differentiate the task
Remember to match tasks to the pupil’s level of development. For example, don’t ask the pupil to write a story if the pupil is unable to construct a narrative orally. Provide alternative ways of showing learning such as photos or video as children with autism often have difficulty with written recording.
5 Build in extra time
Allow plenty of processing time for questions, timed tests and generation of ideas.
6 Mind your language
Simplify your language and provide visual clues where possible, as the child will have difficulties understanding and using communication. Think about the language that you use as children with autism will often think literally and will need to know what you want, rather than what you don’t. Remember also that many pupils with autism are thought to work strongly through the visual channel.
7 Work on flexibility
The child may prefer to preserve their own ideas, interests and play intact, without accepting the ideas of others, due to a lack of ability to empathise or see from the perspective of others. Work on developing the child’s flexibility by regularly offering limited choices.
8 Break it up
Provide regular learning breaks during extended periods of focused work. A curriculum that has too much content, moves too quickly or is not developmentally matched to the pupil’s ability level may result in challenging behaviour and intensified levels of anxiety.
9 Make it concrete
The pupil with autism can find abstract concepts difficult to acquire. Always make sure that the pupil understands the focus of learning. Teach vocabulary specifically and wherever possible, pre-tutor new vocabulary. Begin teaching by making concrete links with the pupil’s past experience in a meaningful way.
10 Incorporate social skills
Wherever possible, build basic social skills into lessons. Give children with autism lots of opportunity to take turns, negotiate or take someone else’s perspective. Avoid high levels of unpredictable or unmediated social interaction as this may lead to a meltdown.
Above all, think outside the box and be proactive rather than reactive!
Mark Hill is a Specialist Teacher for children with Autism Spectrum Condition and the author of many LDA books including: