Many of the approaches that will benefit autistic students will be helpful to all students and should be adopted within an inclusive teaching framework. Try to avoid making assumptions about what the student can and cannot do; including students in discussions about their learning needs and seeking feedback will help them to feel valued and facilitate improvements in communication, teaching and learning.
Clear roles and boundaries
Being clear in what support you are able to offer and knowing what other supports to refer the student to will enable the student to engage with a varied support network. This will also reduce the chance of the student becoming reliant on one particular person.
Clear notification of changes
Change can be particularly stressful for people on the Autism Spectrum. Clear notification in advance of any changes to rooms, staff, deadlines etc. will reduce anxiety and confusion.
Clear rules for classes/conduct
Ambiguity in rules, particularly social rules, can lead to misunderstandings. Clear written rules where possible will ensure the student knows what is expected of him in terms of class conduct. E.g. if questions are not permitted until certain classes/times then this could be made clear to avoid interruptions throughout class.
Clear unambiguous instruction and feedback.
Instructions should be clear and concise to avoid any misinterpretation. Feedback should be clear and direct avoiding any ambiguity. Avoid using sarcasm, metaphors etc. Do not assume that a student has picked up on any non-verbal cues/prompts. Where possible, verbal instruction and feedback should be backed up in writing. Avoiding ambiguity when setting assessment/exam questions will also be beneficial.
Consideration to management of group work.
Group work is a common area of concern and anxiety for students on the Autism Spectrum. Consider if groups could be assigned to avoid the social anxiety of finding a group. Monitoring of group interaction would be beneficial to address and support any concerns within the group. Often a student on the Autism Spectrum could be either too passive or too dominant within a group, meaning group relations can become strained.
Students on the Autism Spectrum often avoid telling people if they have concerns and worries. Scheduling regular meetings with the student will provide a structured opportunity to discuss concerns/progress. It can be helpful for other supports to be involved in the meetings when appropriate (LDC, disability adviser, student mentor…)
Allowing the student to access notes in whichever format they prefer is helpful. This may include electronic notes in advance or permission to record classes.
Use visual supports
Visual supports and written information are beneficial to back up any verbal information. Consider if words are what are needed. In some instances a better, more concise explanation is given by a picture or diagram.
Give processing time
Ensure that adequate processing time is given for verbal information, particularly when a response is required from the student. If the student doesn’t respond promptly then it can be detrimental to simply ask the question again as the student then needs to start processing the information again. As you become familiar with the student you will find it easier to assess how much processing time they require in order to digest information and formulate a response. However in times of anxiety the student may take longer to process information. Where possible it is also best to avoid springing questions on the student, asking them to read aloud in class etc. This is likely to increase the student’s anxiety, which can in turn lead to the need for much more processing time.
If a student is required to undertake a placement then prior planning and matching will be a key factor in their success. The student will most likely benefit from multiple site visits prior to the placement commencing. This will give opportunity for the student to familiarise themselves with the environment and staff. A staff mentor should be identified as early as possible with opportunity for expectations to be made clear and any foreseen difficulties to be discussed.
Too much choice can be overwhelming for students on the Autism Spectrum. Where possible it can be helpful to provide limited choice or guidance on choice, for example when choosing essay or presentation topics.
Adjustments in class
Be aware of and sensitive to any information/adjustments detailed in the students RAP. While the information/adjustments have been agreed with the student it may be that there is an element of anxiety or embarrassment around these, particularly in front of other students. e.g. if a student wears dark glasses to combat a sensitivity to light a light hearted joke about wearing sunglasses inside may cause the person undue anxiety.
The guidance provided is not exhaustive. The Autism Spectrum is varied and as such the needs of each individual will differ. Specific supports and adjustments will be detailed in a student’s RAP.