Teaching Students on the Autism Spectrum

Each year the University welcomes many students on the Autism Spectrum.  Although each students needs may differ, there are many general strategies that can enable effective teaching and learning.

Social Communication

People on the Autism Spectrum have communication difficulties. Difficulties/differences may include:

  • Absence of desire to communicate or communication solely based on expressing needs. This can present difficulties when engaging in small talk or group discussions.
  • Difficulty picking up on sarcasm, metaphors… Literal interpretation of language is common for those on the Autism Spectrum.
  • Processing delays, particularly with verbal communication. The person may also repeat back information while processing.
  • Processing non-verbal information (tone, body language, facial expressions). The person may also have difficulty in using their own non-verbal communication effectively.
Social Interaction

People on the Autism Spectrum have difficulties with Social Interaction. At university areas of particular difficulty may be group work or times out with timetabled classes. These difficulties/differences may include:

  • Appearing  aloof or eccentric
  • Lack of social empathy. May show little interest in the needs or feelings of others.
  • Finding relationships difficult to establish and maintain.
  • Experiencing elevated stress levels, particularly in new situations/environments.  This may lead to unusual social responses.
  • Difficulty understanding social rules across social situations.
Social Imagination

People on the Autism Spectrum can struggle with social imagination (often referred to as flexibility of thought). This may be particularly evident at University in group work/discussion scenarios but may also come across in written work. Areas of difficulty/differences may include:

  • Difficulty understanding the points of view of others.
  • Inflexibility in understanding and applying social rules appropriately.
  • Difficulty generalising concepts across various scenarios.
  • Difficulty imagining the future, which can lead to difficulty in planning and organisation.
  • Difficulty with hypothetical questions/situations.

NB. Many people on the Autism Spectrum also suffer from sensory sensitivities. This spans across all the senses so they may have difficulty with particular lights, sounds, smells etc. At times these students may experience sensory overload and be unable to continue to participate in tasks.

Book a Staff Awareness Session

We are offering staff awareness sessions on this topic. The sessions will be an informal overview of the topic. Staff will also have the chance to discuss the guidance, it's usefuless and if they feel they have anything to add to the current version.

if you would like to book onto an awareness session please use the following link:


If are interested in attending an awareness session but unable to come along to the planned dates please email us at disability@gcu.ac.uk

We will keep your details on record and contact you should more awareness sessions become available.

Autism Accreditation Scheme

 Let’s make GCU the first autism friendly university!

GCU is working with the National Autistic Society, piloting an Autism Accreditation scheme for universities. The internationally recognised Accreditation Scheme has been awarded to hundreds of services in the UK. We are aiming to become the first university in the UK, and worldwide, to be ‘autism friendly’ under this scheme.

Why does this matter?

Around 1 in 100 people are on the autism spectrum. Some have a formal diagnosis, others don’t. This means that we all know someone with autism. This could be a family member, a partner, a friend, a colleague, or yourself.

Autistic people can face real challenges in a university environment where there is constant change, a need to multi-task, self-organise and prioritise tasks, where there are lots of different people to deal with, and lots of noise and bustle.

Greater staff awareness, considering the needs of autistic people when we design our services, courses and spaces, and some extra support when needed, can make all the difference.

What does this mean for me?

We are asking you to consider what steps you could take to help GCU become more autism friendly.

Here’s a few suggestions:

1. Learn more about autism and how it affects people

National Autistic Society

GCU guidance and training opportunities

2. Ask/find out how your team or department supports the needs of autistic people

If your team would like some support to consider this, or to review current practice, contact the Disability Team for a chat. We’d be happy to help.

3. Share your experience

Know about any initiatives or good news stories we can share, to inspire others and create greater awareness about autism?

Tweet about it! Using hashtag #GCUAutismFriendly

The Disability Team would love to hear your views on how we can make GCU more autism friendly - especially if you consider yourself to be on the autism spectrum.

For more information, or to offer your views, contact the Disability Team.