Autism is a condition which impacts the way a student may experience and interact with their environment and others in their environment. Every student with autism is different, there is no ‘one size fits all’. This means that the characteristics of autism may differ significantly from one student to another.
Students with autism typically experience differences in their:
- Initiations and responses during communication. Some students might have lots of language and others might only use a few words or no words. Autistic students tend to speak very honestly, and may misunderstand others when language isn’t direct (e.g. sarcasm or jokes). They may take longer to understand communication, and some students may make statements that don’t fit the flow of conversation or context.
- Interpretations and use of nonverbal communication. Autistic students may avoid or dislike eye context, their facial expressions may be less expressive than other students, and they may not use gestures (e.g. pointing) when communicating. Students may become frustrated and distressed when their attempts to communicate verbally or nonverbally are not understood, which may result in challenging behaviours.
- Interactions and understanding in social contexts. Students with autism may misunderstand social interactions, including unspoken social rules or conventions. They also may not perceive and follow the ‘rules’ of conversation, such as taking turns. Although they may have social difficulties they are often keen to join in, they just might not know how.
- Behaviours or interests. Students with autism may follow routines and class rules well as they tend to like things to be done in a particular way or order. They may have a favourite activity that they are happy to do over and over again, and they may need warning before switching between tasks.
- Reactions to sensory input Some students may find loud noises or particular sounds or textures uncomfortable. As every student with autism is different, it is important that the teacher understands the student’s sensory needs, to provide appropriate supports and ensure the classroom environment is inclusive.
What might be some strengths?
- Some students may have good visual perceptual skills. They might be good at visual searches and recognition.
- Recognising different sounds and music can be a strength.
- Some students may be good at recognising patterns and solving problems.
- Students with a strong interest in a particular topic may have learned lots of information about that topic.
- Some students may provide new or interesting responses to creative tasks (e.g., creating new metaphors).
- Understanding and reasoning about physical objects or properties may be a strength.
Where might you provide support?
- Some students might find it hard to fit in socially. They might find it hard to join in with a group. They may find making eye contact unnatural or difficult.
- They may find recognising or understanding the emotions of others challenging without help.
- They might have difficulties expressing themselves or understanding the meaning of things said to them. They tend to learn well with concrete, rather than abstract, examples.
- They might find it harder to understand instructions. They benefit from support in using a skill they learned in one task or context in another context (generalisation).
- They tend to be less unsettled when they are warned about upcoming changes to plans or transitions between tasks.
- They may be sensitive to certain sounds or other sensations.
- Some students may find some motor tasks such as writing or drawing difficult.
- They may become easily overwhelmed and have emotional ‘meltdowns’.
Adapt activities to be as inclusive as possible
Provide lots of opportunities to practise
Best practice tips
Provide a clear schedule and routine
Help students with organisational skills
Give positive feedback and correction
Express positive regard and support
Provide a safe space
Ask how to help
Planning and organisation
Starting secondary school
Other co-occurring conditions
Visit our resources page for a range of resources that can help to create inclusive education environments for students with disabilities and developmental challenges. Some particularly relevant resources for students with autism are: