autistic students

Tips for supporting autistic students

According to the National Autistic Society (NAS), around 700,000 people in the UK are on the autism spectrum. This means that along with their families, nearly three million people are affected by autism in daily life.

But while some young people with autism need a highly-specialised education, others can follow a more mainstream path and attend school alongside every other pupil.

Even so, those with autism usually require a little bit of extra help when it comes to everyday learning as well as more complex matters such as social skills and even bullying. With this in mind, here are some tips for supporting autistic students.

Informal advice and guidance

  • Adopt a routine created by the student or one that you have both mutually agreed. You should also prepare the student for any changes in their routine.
  • Utilise visual aids that could help the student better understand their routine and the school day. One option is a time timer, which literally ‘shows’ the passage of time.
  • Try to simplify communication wherever possible. Autistic students often need more time to process information. Social stories can be used to develop greater understanding.
  • Think about how you can make the school environment more comfortable. For example, ear defenders are suitable for students that struggle with loud or background noise.
  • Deal with bullying in a prompt and professional manner. If students are unable to describe the nature of their bullying, ask them to draw a picture instead.
  • Give students a time out card or exit pass for when they are feeling anxious or need to leave the classroom.
  • Have a safe and quiet place for students to go when they feel anxiety building or are overloaded by sensory stimuli.
  • Establish clear lines of communication with parents and carers. They may be able to suggest the best interventions.

Frameworks and strategies

NAS has developed a series of formal frameworks and strategies that can be introduced into classrooms with autistic students. They include:

  • SPELL (Structure, Positive approaches, Empathy, Low arousal, and Links) – These five steps have been identified as vital elements of best practice in autism. SPELL aims to increase predictability, establish self-confidence, understand the standpoint of students, create an appropriate environment, and encourage the sharing of information.
  • SCERTS (Social Communication, Emotional Regulation, Transactional Support) – This framework aims to help children become competent social communicators while preventing problematic behaviour that interferes with learning. It can also help educators work alongside families to maximise support and progress.
  • TEACCH (Teaching, Expanding, Appreciating, Collaborating, Cooperating, Holistic) – This framework aims to share autism knowledge, boost the skill level of professionals, appreciate the uniqueness of autism, increase teamwork between colleagues and families, and adopt an approach based on the individual.
  • SULP (Social Use of Language Programme) – This framework attempts to enhance personal, emotional, and social development from a communication and thinking skills perspective. Approaches may differ for primary and secondary school students.

NAS also advocates sensory diets to maintain focus levels throughout the day, positive behaviour support for at risk students, and yoga.