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Impact of Autism on Classroom Support
IMPACT Responding to the needs of pupils 

Sensory processing differences may cause the pupil to experience stress and anxiety in a range of environments.

Staff working with the pupil need to accept that these are legitimate and often complex issues that impact on learning and learning behaviour. Staff do not need high level technical knowledge in relation to sensory processing but do need a willingness to adapt advice based on assessed or identified issues that may have a sensory basis.

Cognitive processing such as Central Coherence difficulties may impact on the pupil's capacity to identify and act upon common environmental cues. Identifying and understanding the appropriate focus of attention may be problematic.

•    Pupils may need time to familiarise themselves with the classroom environment and surrounding key areas.
•    Cupboards and resource areas should be clearly labelled to show c

ontent and or function.

Pupils may become overwhelmed by environmental stimuli.


•    Pupils may need the opportunity to identify where they feel most comfortable sitting.
•    Pupils may benefit from access to a quieter, distraction free area in the class, this does not need to be for the sole or permanent use of pupils with ASD but could be an area where any pupil can go to focus on a piece of work.

Pupils with autism may appear to be easily and frequently distracted by environmental factors. Such factors may be obvious, uncommon or responses to anticipated events e.g. the bell ringing

Pupils with autism may benefit from having a map of the school so they are clear about how they will move from area to area. This is increasingly important in primary school but will almost certainly be a valuable support in a secondary environment.

Pupils may, on occasion need time to withdraw and settle following upset.

  • They may need time to calm down and return to the environment
  • An explanation of what has occurred
  • Some aspect of the environment may have to be altered

If children are unduly stressed they will be unlikely to be able to learn therefore such approaches are a valid and worthwhile investment of time and are a legitimate strategy to enable learning needs to be met.

Pupils with autism may have a poor sense of group culture and group identity and this may be a factor in relation to collaborative working or group tasks

Pupils may need a range of prompts including verbal and visual supports in order that the focus of attention is explicit. An environment that is as clutter and distraction free as possible will maximise capacity to concentrate. This does not mean that there should be no visual stimulus present however when pupils are involved in altering their environment e.g. being present when displays are mounted rather than them appearing overnight are more likely to accept and adjust to such change.

Pupils are likely to be more vulnerable to peers who may focus in on unusual social behaviour and who may exploit inappropriate attempts to interact. Pupils will need a sensitive and empathic approach to enable them to be meaningfully included in social aspects of learning. An incremental approach may be needed e.g. working with an adult then working in pairs and building to groups. It should be acknowledged that for some pupils this will always be problematic. It may also be sporadic with pupils being able to function in groups for some purposes especially if they are related to specific interests but not for others. This also applies to social aspects of the school day, e.g. lunch times.

Ritualistic or routine driven behaviour may develop as a compensatory coping strategy if there is an absence of structure and predictability in the immediate and wider environment.

Staff will need to monitor carefully peer interactions and when necessary intervene to prevent escalation of any issues. Sensitivity will be required so that social attempts by pupils with autism are not undermined. Any negative targeting of pupils with autism should be dealt with immediately and be seen as bullying. It may on occasion be necessary to undertake work with peers as well as with the pupil on the spectrum. This work could form part of a PSD topic or programme. Whilst individual, confidential information regarding specific pupils must not be shared a more general approach to discussing diversity and difference may be helpful. It may be beneficial to be proactive in relation to such issues rather than have to formulate approaches when issues arise and the confidence of the pupil with autism is damaged.

Concerning behaviours may arise as a result of high levels of stress from prolonged periods in unpredictable or highly socially demanding and confusing settings.

It is important to observe and assess such behaviour as it may be due to environmental factors that may be relatively easy to adjust. Using an environmental audit tool may assist. It is also important to ascertain if there is sufficient predictability from the child's perspective, if there is sufficient visual communication and if there is a balance in terms of expected demand especially social demand.

Poor understanding of time concepts, including the passage of time, quantifying time and abstract language used around time e.g. later, soon, in a wee while may provoke anxiety.

Individualised, empathic responses are important. Regular time out or access to time out may be beneficial. Teaching self-regulatory strategies may be important i.e. having supports and strategies in place that enable the pupil to recognise when they are stressed and need to take evasive action. Reasonable adjustments and allowances may need to take place such as not attending assembly or withdrawing from certain subjects that result in stress or having content of such subjects delivered by alternative means.
Concrete markers of time, passage of time, start and finish are required to enable the pupil to orientate themselves across the school day. Language that can be interpreted literally should be avoided - "in a minute" may mean precisely that to a pupil with autism. Similarly abstract language such as" later" is best avoided, instead use concrete signifiers such as "when lunch is finished" For secondary pupils the timetable should indicate the times when classes will start and finish. Pupils may need specifically taught to accept a more flexible approach to time. Rather than it will happen at 1pm it may help to give parameters e.g. It will happen between ten to and ten past one - this is dependent on individual knowledge of the child as some pupils will find this approach stressful.

Pupils with autism are likely to need a high level of repetition of information. This may be due to the way in which information is processed or to a high level of anxiety.

Staff attitude is important here. The pupil is unlikely to be asking repetitive questions to irritate staff, rather they may have difficulty retaining and recalling information in context or indeed see the relevance of specific information to a context. A concrete record of key information using visual supports if needed is likely to minimise the need for repetitive questions. However if supports are in place such behaviour may be indicative of much deeper rooted stress and anxiety.

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