Tips to support a child with autism in school

22.03.2021

Autism is a developmental disorder which can affect how people communicate and interact with the world around them. Approximately 1 in 100 people across the UK have been diagnosed with Autism and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. Autism is a spectrum condition and affects people at different levels and in different ways. Like all people, autistic people have their own strengths and weaknesses. It can present many day-to-day challenges, in particular, how they engage with learning in school. Therefore, it is so important that autistic children feel comfortable when transitioning to an unknown environment, such as school.

Approximately 70% of children with autism attend mainstream primary education in the UK. So, teachers must understand how to best support these pupils. Children with autism may require more guidance and support, while others need higher levels of support. Below are some tips and strategies for working with pupils with autism in schools.

Establish a routine

Autism is a developmental disorder which can affect how people communicate and interact with the world around them. Approximately 1 in 100 people across the UK have been diagnosed with Autism and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. Autism is a spectrum condition and affects people at different levels and in different ways. Like all people, autistic people have their own strengths and weaknesses. It can present many day-to-day challenges, in particular, how they engage with learning in school. Therefore, it is so important that autistic children feel comfortable when transitioning to an unknown environment, such as school.

Approximately 70% of children with autism attend mainstream primary education in the UK. So, teachers must understand how to best support these pupils. Children with autism may require more guidance and support, while others need higher levels of support. Below are some tips and strategies for working with pupils with autism in schools.

Provide extra time to Process Information

Patience is key when teaching autistic children. Even if you use direct language, the pupil may find it hard to interpret what you are saying. Always say the pupil’s name prior to giving them an instruction so that they know that you are speaking to them. Give them extra time to process the information at their own pace. Pressuring the child to answer a question will only slow them down further, and it could deter them from answering questions in the future. Use visual cues if necessary, to remind them of the topic of conversation or question that has been asked.

Use a Child’s Interests to Help Them to Learn

It is vital that the teacher has a clear understanding of how the child is affected by autism, and what their individual needs are. After all, parents are experts on their children. Forming a good relationship with them can help identify key factors about the pupil such as their interests, likes, and dislikes.

A common feature of autism is having highly focussed interests or hobbies which can sometimes be perceived as having an obsession with a particular subject. Being highly focused helps many autistic pupils do well in school but they can also become so engrossed in particular topics or activities that they neglect other aspects of their lives such as friendships or personal care. Therefore, teachers can get creative and find ways to deliver lessons using a child’s interests to motivate school work, whilst maintaining a balance of introducing new interests and activities.  For example, if the child has an interest in Lego, this can be translated, and integrated into mathematical problems.

Clear communication

Autistic people often have difficulties with interpreting both verbal and non-verbal language like body language, non-literal language, or tone of voice. Some autistic people are unable to speak or have limited speech while other autistic people have very good language skills but struggle to understand sarcasm or tone of voice. 

Teachers should avoid lengthy verbal instructions and offer visual supports so that pupils can remember the sequence of instructions. If a child is able to read, then teachers should write the instructions down so that they can go back and check, as they may only be able to remember one or two steps. Some children rely heavily on facial expressions and exaggerated body language to interpret what is being asked of them so teachers can get creative and involve lots of drama and sensory activities in their lessons. 

Autism Care and Encouraging social interaction

A child with autism may have difficulty recognising or understanding other people’s feelings and intentions and expressing their own emotions, which may make them appear to lack interest in their teachers and peers.

However, this is often not the case and it is important to teach them social skills that are recognised and widely accepted such as waiting, using manners and kind gestures. The classroom offers a perfect setting to build on this, but the child first needs to become familiar with the classroom setting and his/her peers. You can include learning activities focused on encouraging social interaction between pupils such as playing games with more than one player, turn taking activities, drama-based lessons, sporting activities and many more.

Sometimes pupils will seek out time alone when overloaded by too much choice at busy times. In these situations, teachers can use ‘choose boards’ with images of two or three activities such as playing on the swing, walk or sensory play to allow the child to focus their thinking.