Other considerations for autism
A note on language
How you speak about autism is an important issue to many. Some people on the autism spectrum prefer ‘autism’ over ‘autism spectrum disorder’. Some students and their families prefer a person-first approach, where you refer to the person before their diagnosis - so ‘student on the autism spectrum’ or ‘student with autism’.
This puts the focus on the student, rather than his or her diagnosis. However, others may prefer identity-first language, so ‘autistic student' rather than a ‘student with autism’. This is becoming increasingly common and can help individuals to claim their disability with pride, whilst challenging negative stereotypes about autism.
For more on langage, visit our primary teacher language guide. Students on the autism spectrum typically experience differences in their:
Initiations and responses during communication
Some students might have lots of language and others might only use a few words or no words. Students on the autism spectrum tend to speak very honestly, and may misunderstand others when language isn’t direct (such as sarcasm or jokes). They may take longer to understand communication, and some students may make statements that don’t fit the flow of conversation or context. Students on the autism spectrum might require support to understand some instructions. They tend to learn well with concrete, rather than abstract, examples. and benefit from support in using a skill they learned in one task or context in another context (generalisation).
Interpretations and use of nonverbal communication
Students on the autism spectrum may avoid or dislike eye context, their facial expressions may be less expressive than other students, and they may not use gestures (for example, pointing) when communicating. Students may become frustrated and distressed when their attempts to communicate verbally or nonverbally are not understood, which may result in behaviours of concern.
Interactions and understanding in social contexts
Students on the autism spectrum may misunderstand social interactions, including unspoken social rules or conventions. They also may not perceive and follow the ‘rules’ of conversation, such as taking turns. Although they may have social difficulties, and may play alone or alongside others - they are often keen to join in, they just might not know how.
Behaviours or interests
Students on the autism spectrum may follow routines and class expectations well as they tend to like things to be done in a particular way or order. They may have a favourite activity that they are happy to do over and over again, and they may need warning before switching between tasks.
Reactions to sensory input
Some students may find loud noises or particular sounds or textures uncomfortable. As every student on the autism spectrum is different, it is important that the teacher understands the student’s sensory profile, to provide appropriate supports and ensure the classroom environment is inclusive.
A student on the autism spectrum may find having a different teacher and changed routine upsetting.
Telling casual teachers about the specific routines and teaching tips that will help that student may prevent distress.
Consider sensitivity to smells and textures when giving first aid to a student on the autism spectrum. Some students may be distressed by blood or bandages or refuse to have an ice pack or medication.
Talk to a student’s parents or carers to identify the best way to manage an injury or illness.
Students with minimal language may have difficulty communicating that they are in pain or unwell. Gestures or other methods of communication may be needed to work out what may be happening. Ask families what signs of pain the student may show, such as grimacing.
Unexpected safety drills may upset some students on the autism spectrum. Consider letting a student know beforehand that there will be a drill. Pair them with a buddy or person they feel safe with.
Noise-reducing headphones may help if they find the noise of the alarms overwhelming.
Some students on the autism spectrum may not know how to tell an adult if there is an emergency, or what to do in an emergency or emergency drill. Consider making time for demonstrating and practising what to do.
Identifying what may be causing a student’s behaviour can help both the teacher and the student feel less frustrated.
Some common causes of behaviours of concern include difficulty in communicating their wants and needs, feeling anxious, sensory overload, trouble understanding or working on a task, or not understanding the expectations.
Encouragement and acknowledging positive behaviour may help. Encouragement that is linked to a student’s interests may be particularly helpful.
Refer to the behaviour page for more information on how to reduce behaviours of concern by supporting the student and promoting more helpful behaviour, and our emotions page for more information about supporting a student with managing their emotions.
A student on the autism spectrum may face challenges with friendship dynamics or feeling different. Teachers may need to help facilitate and navigate friendships.
Access our being different resource.
Excursions or camps
A student on the autism spectrum may find the change in routine of camp or excursions challenging. Providing detailed information in advance about the change can be helpful.
A student on the autism spectrum may benefit from supports when starting high school. It may be helpful to teach and practise organisation and homework skills, and time and self management skills.
Access our transitions page for more information.