Top Tips For Helping AUTISTIC
STUDENTS to Learn
© The National Autistic Society 2015 Schools’ Autism Awareness Week: www.autism.org.uk/saaw
- Get the student’s attention before you give out instructions.
You could call their name or go closer to them, but also stay aware of any issues they may have with being in close proximity to others.
- Use clear and consistent language.
Try using visual clues or symbols along with words as this may make your instructions easier to follow. People on the autism spectrum often find visual information extremely helpful.
- Give the child time to process information.
Try using the six second rule: Count to six in your mind after giving an instruction.
- Make sure that you say what you mean.
Avoid non-literal language such as metaphor, sarcasm and idioms without also giving a clear explanation of your meaning. You could spend some time teaching a student some common idioms and metaphors, explaining them in literal terms. They may like to compile a list of common terms they struggle with.
- Try to include demonstrations, activities and pictures in your lessons.
People on the autism spectrum learn better when they see things. Use realistic pictures as they might not be able to relate to unrealistic ones. Visual supports are very helpful in preparing for changes and explaining information.
- Make the lesson more explicit by relating to the child’s experience.
Or try to give the child such an experience – after all, it’s easier to understand happiness when you’re feeling it. The golden rule is to proceed from concrete (what the child knows) to abstract (what you are asking them to imagine).
- Try to teach a new topic in as many situations as possible.
Children on the autism spectrum might find it difficult to ‘generalise’ a learnt skill or to apply a skill in a new way when in differing contexts. For example, if you are teaching addition, teach the child to add up using objects, numbers and finger counting. Don’t expect an autistic student to simply pick these things up, or to intuitively understand that horizontal and vertical additions are two ways of carrying out the same task.
- Keep things calm and simple. Autistic students will benefit from a quiet, distraction-free learning area.
Because of their perceptual differences, too much noise, movement, bright colours and pictures will be difficult for most autistic students to cope with. Similarly if you are using pictures to teach, try to avoid complicated pictures or pictures with too much information.
- Have consistent classroom rules and routines. It’s important your autistic students understand what you expect of them.
Make sure rules are explained explicitly using visual supports and that rules set are followed by staff (there is little more damaging to trust and rapport than staff not working by the rules that they set for others!).
- Have clear consequences for rule-breaking.
These should apply to the whole class (and staff – see above).
Having ‘time-out’ from a class can help a student recover from a stressful experience. Time-outs should be seen as meeting a need, not used as a reward for compliance or punishment.
These help to provide structure and therefore reduce uncertainty and anxiety, helping the student to focus on their learning.
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