How can a school change their teaching to better meet the needs of Autistic students?
There are a number of elements of the school environment that might make the learning experience more challenging for autistic students, for example the sensory environment, transferability of skills from subject to subject or lack of direct or clear instruction. Sometimes autistic students might need a lot more reinforcement to cement the concepts they are learning to their memory.
Teachers must adapt their teaching styles to make sure they meet the needs of every student in the classroom so that each child can access the curriculum. Most importantly, teachers need to be aware of the child’s individual profile. Where does the student’s strengths lie? What parts of the curriculum do they find challenging?
Ideally, Autism Friendly education is best when it’s applied on a school-wide level, as done through AsIAm’s Autism Friendly School programme which provides autism guidance not only to teachers, but on a school-wide level However, if a teacher wishes to start with more gradual changes or wishes to prove the value of autism friendly teaching , there are a number of options available.
- Sensory Challenges: For example, if you are planning on conducting a science experiment in your class and you know that one of your student’s experiences sensory challenges when it comes to smells, perhaps you need to arrange for the experiment to be filmed for that student because they may not be able to sit in on the class.
- Perfectionism: Another way a teacher can vary their teaching to best meet the student’s needs is by altering the timings that they use in class. For some autistic students, they might feel a pressure to do every element of their work perfectly which might mean that the work ends up taking them much longer to complete than it would for other students in their class. For example, you might limit the amount of time a student should spend on their work, saying that they are to spend no more than 20 minutes on an activity and it does not matter if they do not complete the work in that time.
- Learning Styles: In terms of playing on a student’s strengths, teachers should use a variety of resources in their teaching. For example, students who are strong visual or aural learners might benefit from the use of video clips in the classroom. You could ask students to find an interesting YouTube video based on a topic you are learning in class. Teachers could provide students with different options for their homework such as a choice of 3 different questions or activities, each focusing on a different learning style.
- Group Work: Sometimes in school you are required to work in groups which can be challenging for autistic students. A way that teachers can make this process a little bit easier for their autistic students is by giving them a very clear, specific role in the group for example asking them to be the timekeeper.
- Note Taking: Some autistic children might struggle with writing or typing notes or might not be able to keep up with the note taking pace of the other students in the class. Perhaps you could suggest that the student takes a photo of the notes on the board so that they can work on their notes in their own time. Alternatively, you might suggest that they focus on taking down key words or use visual forms of note taking like an infographic or spider diagram instead.
What supports are available to educators wanting to learn to better support their students?
There are a number of ways that school staff can learn to support their students outside of the support provided by the Department of Education. The Professional Development Service for Teachers or PDST is an organisation which provides a great amount of support to teachers in terms of upskilling and further developing their knowledge in supports the needs of students within the school. The National Council for Special Education, or the NCSE, provides educators with a support service in terms of education and behaviour for example additional training on specific learning difficulties. Schools must apply for these supports from the NCSE and continuously engage with the supports which requires quite a lot of preparation from the schools management. The NCSE also provides advice and guidance to school management and leaders. There is constantly room for educators to reeducate themselves and further their knowledge on new skills or information in terms of special needs education, learning difficulties and more.
Above all, try to normalize discussing autism in an open and inclusive way: Guidance for teachers is also available through school talks such as those delivered by our training team.