If you teach an autistic child, you may be looking for ways to support them in and out of the classroom. Here we have listed some of the ideas, tools and resources to help autistic pupils thrive, ranging in age from nursery to sixth-form.
Laws to abide by
Anyone working with SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) children / young people need to know about the SEND code of practice. Launched in 2014, it describes the duties of Local Authorities, health bodies, schools and colleges to provide for SEND individuals up to the age of 25 years.
Other laws you will need to know about are:
- Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014
- Children and Families Act 2014
- The Equality Act 2010
- Autism Act 2009
Resources provided by your Local Authority (e.g. Bristol City Council) are a useful starting place when looking for additional help. Services are listed as part of the Local Offer, including a section dedicated to those living / working with Autistic individuals. The links below take you to the Local Offers from Bristol, South Gloucestershire, North Somerset and BaNES:
- Bristol Local Offer
- South Gloucestershire Local Offer
- North Somerset Local Offer
- BaNES Local Offer (aka Rainbow Resource)
Each Local Authority should have an Autism Outreach Team [e.g. Bristol Autism Team (BAT)] who can support teachers, providing services such as awareness training and plans tailored for individual students. Each Authority’s Local Offer has details of the team in your area, how to refer a pupil and links to other services that they offer. It is also useful to know how to make a referral to services such as the local paediatric Occupational Therapy or Speech and Language Therapy team, as they will can provide ideas, exercises, techniques and resources to help a child reach their potential.
Speech and Language Therapy
Speech and language therapy (SaLT) is about much more than just talking. It also takes a holistic view of communication, getting needs met, communicating feelings, etc.
- Bristol and South Gloucestershire NHS Clinical Children’s Health Partnership (CCHP) SaLT service
- North Somerset SaLT team
- Talk Speech Therapy
- Child Speech Therapy
Occupational therapy deals with ways to help individuals with daily tasks, such as dressing and self-care. In a school setting, this can involve things like writing and using movement breaks or fiddle toys to reduce anxiety and improve concentration.
- Bristol and South Gloucestershire NHS Clinical Children’s Health Partnership (CCHP) OT service
- North Somerset OT team
- Therapy Space
Anxiety and Stress
Anxiety and stress can cause many problems for autistic individuals. For example, the uncertainty of transitions can cause huge anxiety. Transitions happen every day (between lessons, between activities, going to school, going home) as well as in between big events such as changing educational establishments, having a supply teacher rather than the normal teacher, building up to Christmas etc. With a little planning and forethought both by the school and by the family, a lot of the difficulties created by transitions can be avoided.
- Autism West Midlands – a PDF with ideas to help manage anxiety and stress
- Autism West Midlands – the five point scale
- Understanding anxiety at school – a guide written for professionals by the NAS
- Anxiety UK – tools such as an anxiety diary, social circles and relaxation techniques
Communication and understanding are one of the difficulties that autistic children struggle with. Many children find visual prompts, timetables and other such tools are much more easy to follow than verbal commands. The following links provide useful techniques, ideas and tools for communicating with autistic pupils in a way that’s accessible, and which enables them to fulfil their potential.
- Autism Spectrum Teacher – A blog with ideas for use in the classroom.
- Boardmaker – an app designed to map out activities for autistic children.
- Easyonthei – ideas on how to simplify communication
- Makaton – a form of communication that uses signs and symbols
- Social Stories – a simple way to tell about an activity, lesson or change.
- More social stories – Autism West Midlands
- Talking Point – communication support for those working with children
- The Communication Trust – Speech, Language and Communication Progression Tools
Communication includes the ability to read and write. Some children will have no difficulty with these skills, whilst others will really struggle. Below are links to pages that provide ideas, tools and techniques that could be used to help such children.
- NAS – A list of ideas and links to further pages with resources
- Teacher tool kit – more ideas
- Nessy – an online program for any child struggling with reading and writing
- The Autism Helper – more ideas again
Planning lessons for autistic children may involve a little extra effort but it’s worth it. Visual aids and other solutions can be used to meet the needs of autistic pupils of any age, and may be appreciated by other children too.
- TEACCH – a way of teaching autistic pupils that is mainly used in special schools
- Gentle Teaching and Responsive Teaching methods – descriptions of techniques
- Incidental Teaching – description of the method and links to publications
- Autism classroom resources – ideas and downloadable resources
Socialising and bullying
Socialising can often be very stressful for autistic children, as they misread body language, display different behaviours and fail to understand subtle social cues. Making friends is often a mysterious process for those with ASD. However, bullying can be equally difficult to deal. These links may provide some useful resources:
- Anti-Bullying Alliance – information about dealing with bullying in different situations
- NAS – Guide to bullying for parents of Autistic children
- Ambitious About Autism – 10 reasons why Autistic individuals struggle to make friends
- Circle of Friends – an approach to create a social network around vulnerable individuals
- Playground Support – ideas to reduce an individual’s difficulties at lunch and breaktimes
- More resources can be found in our post about bullying
A child with sensory issues to things like noise (the classroom chatter, the buzzing sound of strip lights), smell and touch (the feel of the pen, carpet, clothes etc) may struggle to concentrate if overwhelmed by their senses. Identifying problems and finding ways around them may well enable the child to concentrate better. It may be that this is an area that Occupational Therapists may be of particular help:
An important part of any school’s job is to provide timetables. For some autistic children, particularly those of a younger age, visual timetables are a godsend. They clearly display what’s going on during a school day, using images and short sentences or one-word captions. Here are some links for inspiration:
- ASD Teacher – visual timetables
- Easyonthei– image bank for Easy Read symbols
- Widgit – a library of symbols that can be bought or downloaded.
- Autism West Midlands– examples of visual timetables
Tools for Specific Age Groups
- My World – a free newsletter for education professionals produced by NAS
- Twinkl – a range of resources including visual timetables and symbols
- TES – a range of resources
- NAS – tips on how to manage ASD children in mainstream classrooms
- BAT toolkit for secondary education
Post 16 Education
Transitions cover any change in activity, whether it be small (finishing one game and moving onto the next) or large (changing nursery, school or college). In particular, preparing teenage children for college, university and beyond presents a unique set of challenges. The links below offer tips on how to manage transitions, with some focusing on helping those preparing for ‘A’ Levels, apprenticeships and university.
To find more information on specific topics relating to autism in school, there are a few websites worth visiting:
Books and leaflets
Many books have been written about autism and education. Here is a small selection which may provide an understanding of the challenges faced by autistic children and how best to teach them:
- How to Support and Teach Children on the Autism Spectrum
- M is for Autism – book written by schoolchildren
- Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism
- A Guide to Writing Social Stories
- Flying Starts for Unique Children
- Autism Spectrum Disorder and the Transition into Secondary School