This podcast is part of a series that highlights adjustments that can be made in the classroom to enable students with disability to access and participate in education on the same basis as their peers.
In this episode, we talk about common adjustments teachers can make in the classroom to support autistic students. Autism is a lifelong developmental condition that can affect a student’s ability to learn and the rate at which they develop new skills. Autistic students may have repetitive behaviours and experience challenges with sensory issues or social communicationwith possible accompanying intellectual and/or language impairment. Since the condition occurs on a spectrum, students will vary vastly in their strengths and talents.
Year 3 student Christopher discusses how he sometimes has trouble focusing and talks about a supervised ‘time out’ arrangement that helps him. His mum Claire talks about how anxiety can be one of the biggest factors holding him back. Teacher Helen McLennan says that structure and routine are important to all students, but especially autistic students. Dr Suzanne Carrington explains why it is important to get to know a student’s learning strengths and to provide both scaffolding and personalised support.
Top five takeaways
Remember that the learning and social needs of autistic students can be hugely varied. A student who excels in maths won’t necessarily be confident in the playground, and vice versa.
Help students organise and plan their learning day by using technological tools such as timers, visual schedules and reminders. Every autistic student child will present differently; however, structure and routine in the classroom are beneficial to all students.
Prepare students for new situations through strategies such as storytelling and social scripts which describe social situations, skills or concepts. Explain any upcoming changes in routine and provide reassurance. Anxiety caused by transitions can be a major issue for some autistic students, and this can interrupt learning.
Use visual cues such as concept maps to help students learn and revise previously explored ideas. Many autistic students will benefit from materials being presented visually, as it enables them to concretely see what is required.
Consider that some autistic students may not be able to cope in a noisy classroom environment or may have other sensory sensitivities therefore require the implementation of strategies to counteract this such as the use of headphones or by providing a quiet room. When setting classroom activities, think about what you are trying to achieve, and whether the task can be completed in an alternate way.
If required, how could I use visual scaffolding to help an autistic student?
How could I best support an autistic student to organise their time and complete tasks?
How can I introduce effective break times, but still maintain structure?
What technological tools could I introduce into the classroom to help autistic students with either handwriting difficulties or challenges with executive functioning, or both?
How can I create a classroom environment that supports the sensory needs of students who may be sensitive or reactive to aspects of the learning setting?
How can I record the adjustments, the monitoring and review of these adjustments as part of the evidentiary requirements for the NCCD?