Do you have strategies in place to ensure that your classroom is autism-friendly?
The classroom can be a daunting place for pupils on the autistic spectrum. For those with the condition, senses can become hypersensitive, familiar environments can seem hostile and social interactions can be difficult to communicate feelings or emotions.
Although the vast majority of pupils with the condition will have individual education plans in place, parents often feel that more could be done to support their children in the school setting.
63% of children on the autistic spectrum are not in the kind of school their parents believe would best support them. (Source)
6 Tips to Be Autism Friendly
Putting in place the right support at the right time can make an incredible difference to the lives of the pupils you teach. Below are six tips that you can use to ensure your classroom is autism friendly.
1. Keep things calm
Autistic pupils often benefit from environments free from too much noise, movement or bright colours. Try to keep things simple and distraction free wherever possible.
2. Be consistent with your expectations
It is important that autistic pupils understand what behaviour you deem to be acceptable. Make sure that rules are made explicit and ensure that there are clear consequences for rule breaking within the classroom. This should apply to both pupils and staff, who should be setting the example for their pupils.
3. Use clear language and visual stimulus
Pupils on the autistic spectrum often have a clearer understanding when they can visualise things. Many primary practitioners will make visual timetables and visual aids to instructions to assist autistic pupils throughout the day. Try using visual clues, symbols or realistic pictures along with words to make instructions easier to follow. While issuing instructions, ensure that you have the pupil’s attention before you begin and allow the pupil time to process the information.
4. Be literal
Pupils on the autistic spectrum find it difficult to understand sarcasm, metaphors or idioms. Where possible, avoid non-literal language during lessons. If appropriate, compile a list of common terms and explain them in literal terms to assist with the pupil’s understanding.
5. Relate learning to the child’s experience
Wherever possible, try to create experiences for the pupil to learn from or relate back to experiences you know the pupil has already had. You should endeavor to begin with what the child already knows and work up towards whatever you are asking them to imagine. Begin with the concrete before moving on to the abstract.
6. ‘Time-Outs’ are neither a sanction or a reward
Pupils on the autistic spectrum will develop an array of coping strategies as they move through their school life. Removing themselves from certain situations is one such strategy that can be very effective, as it allows the pupil to recover from a stressful experience. It should be seen as a strategy to utilise when a situation warrants it, so as to allow the pupil to continue learning, and not be utilised as a sanction or reward.
*Reid, B. (2011). Great Expectations. London: The National Autistic Society, p18
If you would like more information or support relating to autism in the UK, visit www.autism.org.uk.