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 Impact of Autism on Personal Transitions
IMPACT Responding to the needs of pupils 

Autism is a developmental disorder and therefore developmental life transitions may be out of step with typical development.

As part of the developmental profile of abilities an autism specific assessment can indicate in certain areas of functioning (for example imitation) a severe delay in development.

Bear in mind the scattered profile of abilities and how this can be associated with typical development. Using typical development as a guide provides insight into why the pupil behaves in certain ways based on their developmental functioning. Observations gained from assessing developmental functioning enables teachers to develop programmes targeting these levels thus providing greater scope for successful planning and intervention.

The impact of this developmental delay may result in the pupil with autism being placed in an environment that they are not 'developmentally ready for' or have yet to acquire the skills to enable them to adapt, cope or even function adequately. This can translate into a conflict of expectations from parents and teaching staff.

Assess individual skills separately ( i.e. imitation skills, cognitive verbal performance, nonverbal communication etc) against typical development and focus interventions and teaching strategies accordingly.

Autism specific assessments are available (Pep3, AAPEP and TTAP) and provide a developmental profile of skills. Knowledge of the pupil's developmental profile.

For a pupil with an autism typical adjustments to transitions may follow a different pattern to that of typically developing children. Transitions may be extended; elongated or delayed (an example of this may be seen through the pupil taking several months to adjust to the changing school year).


There should be an expectation that pupils with an autism plus additional learning disability will possess a range of skills significantly younger than their chronological age and their peer group.

There may be a delay in the pupils capacity to deal with the impact of their own emotional states (an example may be that they do not respond to stereotyped messages, i.e. 'too big to cry').

There should be an expectation that the child will not necessarily 'naturally' develop emotional management skills and these may need concrete teaching (this can be achieved through visual teaching, for example a 'feelings thermometer' or the 'angry volcano').

There may be a delay in achieving an appropriate level of behavioural responsibility (the ability to take on personal responsibility for ones own actions).

The pupil may be delayed in their development of acquiring personal responsibility skills in relation to self-help and personal care.

There may be a further delay in the pupil acquiring extended personal skills (for example they may not possess the skills of safety or organisational management that would enable them to complete home work or travel independently to and from school).

The ability to self-advocate may be a delayed or underdeveloped skill and therefore providing structured opportunities with a focused agenda to achieve this may be beneficial for the pupil with an autism. The development of self-advocacy forums ( i.e. 'pupil forums') where initially the concept of 'self-advocacy' is taught with visual adaptations that assist the pupil to 'put their view forward'. It is worth bearing in mind that this concept may be interpreted rigidly and the pupil will need to also understand that there are times when they may self-advocate, but this does not necessarily mean they will automatically receive a positive response - think beyond the actual immediate teaching to the possible longer term impact of the child's autism (look at all aspects of teaching new skills and think contingency plans).

Development of personal interests may be out of synch with their peer group (there is acceptance of young children watching, collecting and playing with fire engines, less tolerance, rejection and ridicule may be the experience for an adolescent following this interest). A pupil with autism may appear to get stuck with a fascination or interest that is usually associated with a much younger child.

Transitions of loss and bereavement may be atypical and result in delayed, unconventional or no apparent response.

The impact of separation may be atypical (the pupil may not appear to respond to the separation of parents; they may appear to show signs of 'stranger anxiety' for an extended period of time).

There may be resistance to physical changes ( i.e. voice breaking, secondary sexual characteristics).

Channel times for indulging in own specific interests if this may make the child susceptible to being bullied and teach similarly matched age appropriate alternatives (bear in mind that the social and developmental age may be significantly younger than their peer group).

Concretely teaching the concept of 'loss' is critical for all children, but particularly for the pupil with autism as this is an abstract concept that one achieves through experience. A useful concrete way of doing this may be through the concept of 'broken'. (an example is outlined here: Allow the child to experience the 'loss' of a broken toy, let the child see and hear your explanation of the toy being broken and then jointly dispose of the toy explaining that 'the toy is broken, so we throw it away and we wont see it again'). This may help to develop their understanding of loss and bereavement.

Concretely teaching the different aspects of separation may be necessary in an educational context as a means of teaching the pupil what separation and reunion can mean. When teaching concepts out of context ( i.e. divorce) to pupils on the spectrum think of this teaching opportunity as a fundamental step to their 'social and life translation'. Facilitate the development of life dictionaries; social understanding (life concepts) 'portfolios' these can act as concrete reference points to aid their understanding of social situation either at the time or later on in their life if they experience such an event.

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