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Supporting Children with Autism in the Classroom

posted by Hannah on Friday, 28 October 2016

The process of learning can be much more complicated for children diagnosed with autism. Therefore, teachers who have pupils with an autism diagnosis in their classroom should tailor their teaching plan accordingly. The degree to which children will struggle with mainstream teaching methods will depend on where they are on the autism spectrum.

What is autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental condition. Symptoms typically appear during early childhood and impact a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.

Autism affects people differently, however, the following symptoms may be present:

  • Difficulty interacting and communicating with others
  • Requiring more time to understand information
  • Becoming overwhelmed by loud noises or bright lights
  • Struggles following how other people think or feel
  • Social events or unfamiliar situations causing anxiety
  • Repetitive thinking or actions

Is autism a disability or disorder?

Although autism is often referred to as a disability, it is merely just a way of describing someone’s brain working differently. Children diagnosed with autism can still lead a full life.

How does autism affect learning?

Children who have autism will have a different developmental journey from other children, even other children with the same diagnosis. These differences mean that language development can be considered to be slower.

Consequently, this can result in children finding it difficult to understand tasks or follow instructions. They may also struggle to express how they feel or respond to direct questions. 

With this in mind, teachers and support staff should adapt their lessons to ensure everyone in the classroom excels. Adaptations can include the use of visual prompts and encouraging language development.

Autism in the classroom

The classroom environment itself can often be a challenge for children with autism. Some children will perform best when given their own designated space, free from loud or unexpected noises, where they are free to learn in a manner that suits them. 

Children that exhibit repetitive behaviours can become fixated on a particular subject, known as restricted interests. This fixation can be useful to you as a teacher, as you can draw on these interests to aid the learning process. A child captivated by dinosaurs, for example, is likely to be much more enthusiastic when you tailor your lesson plan towards a dinosaur theme. 

Finally, if your pupil is struggling to grasp the concept you are teaching, ask yourself how else you can communicate and, over time, build an idea of how he or she responds to different approaches. This way, you can better tailor your lesson plans moving forward.

Did you know: About 1% of the UK population has autism spectrum disorder. (Brugha T.S. et al., 2011)

Training on how to support a child with autism in the classroom

Whether a child in your class has been diagnosed with autism, or you are hoping to invest in training in case this situation arises, you may benefit from the following distance learning courses:

These are specialised courses that will teach you strategies for lesson preparation and will introduce approaches that can help your pupils develop confidence in their ability to learn and exhibit positive behaviour.

You may also be interested in some of the other online childcare courses that we offer.