Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) covers all aspects of the autistic spectrum, including Asperger syndrome and high-functioning autism.
ASD is a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them.
Watch this fantastic short video for a simple introduction to autism.
ASD has key diagnostic features that express themselves to different extents in each autistic individual. This is why the term 'spectrum' is used to describe the way it affects people. There is no 'one size fits all' approach to supporting autistic children, but there are some very common elements that teachers need to be aware of (see classroom strategies below).
Social Communication and Interaction
- Problems understanding tone of voice, sarcasm, humour, facial expressions, and body language
- Literal interpretation of language often a key feature, especially idioms and metaphors (e.g. pull your socks up!)
- Difficulty expressing how they are feeling (poorly developed emotional literacy)
- May have difficulty processing long or complex sentences
- Difficulty forming, or uninterested in, friendships
- May avoid eye contact
- May need to be taught how to spot social cues, such as boredom
- Often have a special interest which they will discuss at length, and may show no interest in other people's opinions or interests
- These behaviours may unintentionally appear rude
- Difficulty interpreting others' thoughts, feelings, and actions
- May be difficult to see things from someone else's point of view, and understand that people may have different thoughts and feelings from their own
- Hard to predict what will or could happen next
- Unplanned changes or unfamiliar situations can be extremely difficult to cope with
- Planning for change and the future is likely to need support
- Interpersonal and imaginative play may be something that is copied or pursued rigidly and repetitively (see special interests above)
- May have hyper- or hypo-sensitivity to one or more sensory inputs
- Hyper-sensitivity: e.g. a light touch on the arm may cause distress, or the texture of clothing could cause distress
- Hypo-sensitivity: e.g. some children may not detect pain as easily, or may feel reassured when given a deep hug
- Visual processing may be affected, such that details are noticed, but not the whole picture
- Loud or piercing sounds (e.g. fire alarm) can be painful and distressing (particularly when unexpected)
- Awareness of the body in 3D space can be affected, and they may appear clumsy and uncoordinated
Where to go for help
The National Autistic Society is a great resource. Parents may find this section helpful:
This section has great advice for teachers:
If you’re autistic or have someone on the autism spectrum in your family, everyday life can be a real challenge. But sometimes it’s the small changes which can help.