Autism Toolbox a resource for Scottish Schools

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 Impact of autism on Personalising Learning
IMPACT Responding to the needs of pupils 

Pupils on the autism spectrum may present with an uneven profile of abilities.

Assessment will be required to determine the appropriate level of academic tasks. It will be important not to assume competence in one area will mean comparable ability at all levels. This may make for a more protracted approach to assessment but is likely to result in a more comprehensive profile of strength and need.

Core difficulties with language and the extraction of implied or intended meaning can be a barrier to accessing standard curriculum materials.

Review teaching materials for language that is ambiguous or could be interpreted on a literal level.

Ensure that the purpose of the task is explicit and that it is not lost in extraneous detail or complex language.

Ensure there is a match between the pupil's language ability and the language used.

Bear in mind that some pupils on the spectrum may have a high level of understanding of technical language but find "carrier" language confusing. This will be particularly relevant to problem solving tasks and in active learning contexts.

Materials that are overly visually stimulating or that contain superfluous visual information may be confusing or distracting.

When necessary ensure that work is presented in such a way that the focus of attention is appropriate. This will be determined by observation of how pupils interpret materials and instructions/tasks.

The boundaries of tasks may be confusing. Pupils may have difficulty getting started or knowing when to stop.

The beginning and end of tasks may need to be highlighted. This can be achieved by:

Use of timers e.g. sand timers, kitchen timers or a clock with a marker to show when the task will be finished.

Visual markers located in work e.g. "Start" and "stop" or green lights and red lights or arrows to indicate the beginning and the end of exercises.

A box that indicates when work is finished embedded into work may be useful. e.g. 'Finished'

Some pupils may benefit from a physical boundary superimposed on the task to make it clear to them what they are supposed to be working on.

Skills taught in class may not automatically be transferred into a functional context.

Investing time to practice skills in situ will be beneficial. Teaching the same skill in a variety of contexts may be required. Using real practical materials e.g. using real coins when teaching money values.

Be creative with opportunities around the school to practice skills e.g. buying pencils; snack; reading for information - timetable, instructions; taking on tasks in the office; enterprise projects etc. All of this is likely to be underway for all pupils. Adjustment coupled with a creative approach will maximise the benefit to pupils who are on the spectrum.

Recording information can be challenging in terms of quality and quantity. Reasons for this include:

A need for work to look perfect. This may be due to a tendency for rigid/inflexible thinking.

Fine motor and or sensory issues may impact on the quality of written work due to the over or under exertion of pressure applied.

A lack of intrinsic motivation may inhibit the quantity of work produced. A pupil who feels they have mastered a skill may see no purpose or benefit to them in evidencing competence.

It will be important to consider whether it is necessary to have written evidence. If so individual motivators may need to be used to encourage the pupil to produce work that reflects their ability.

For pupils who tend towards perfectionism, long term approaches to address understanding that everyone makes mistakes should be ongoing.

If written evidence is not required consider alternatives such as:

  • Photographs
  • Pre-written labels
  • Access to a computer
  • Scribing (to varying degrees)
  • Magnetic boards and photocopier
  • Whiteboards/chalkboards
  • Video
  • Illustrations/drawings.

Autism may overlap with other conditions.

An occupational therapy assessment may be required for pupils whose motor skills are a consistent source of concern.

Motivation to engage with tasks is dependent on many factors including:

  • Purpose
  • Interest/experience
  • Tangible outcomes.

Motivators will vary significantly for individuals with autism. Consider observing to find what will motivate a pupil in any given situation as this may also vary. Initially motivators are usually highly personal and families will often be able to provide helpful information about their own family member.

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