The Autism Spectrum is very broad and whilst some children attend mainstream schools, others attend specialist development schools.
It is now very common for most schools to have children with ASDs and the better prepared they are, the better the experience is for teachers, students with ASDs themselves, other students and families – the whole school community.
Individuals with an ASD have certain impairments which require understanding and a certain amount of adjustment by schools to help them to cope and fit in better. For example, their disability often makes the world a very confusing place and their inability to express this, can lead to frustration and to “meltdowns”. Their struggle with communication can cause misunderstandings and often, simple language is required.
Many of the strategies to assist individuals with ASDs are extremely useful strategies that help all children – and teachers too! For example, children sometimes have difficulties choosing from multiple activities – if they are offered just two simple choices, it can make it a lot easier for them. This is a simple strategy that not only works for those with ASDs, it works equally well with all children, especially young children.
Children with ASDs like order and routine and find it very difficult when their day is disrupted. For example, if an emergency teacher takes their class, they may find this extremely upsetting. This can be helped greatly by warning the child that there will be a different teacher. Again, this is something that not only helps the child with an ASD, but also helps all the children.
Students with ASDs often comprehend visual information better than verbal information. Strategies such as visual timetables and visual representations of classroom rules can help students with ASDs. As around 65% have visual learning as our preferred learning method, this not only helps those with ASDs, but also helps many other students as well.
School nurses, school welfare staff and teachers are well placed to notice developmental and behavioural differences in students and having a good understanding of ASDs will help you to identify characteristics that might signify the presence of an ASD, and to refer parents to their GP or to a paediatrician for further assistance.
Teachers aides may be employed to assist individuals with ASDs: however, there is often little or no training provided for these people to help students. We strongly recommend that you find out as much as you can about the student you are working with, from the child’s parents as a start. The parents know their child better than anyone and can tell you about their specific characteristics. ASD is a spectrum disorder that is quite different from individual to individual. We also recommend that you undertake training and read as much as you can about the disorder.
There is information for individuals and families about starting school, which may also be of use to educators. Find out more