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 Impact of Sensory Issues in Autism on Learning
Tactile Processing Issues  Responding to the needs of pupils 

Child is uncomfortable with light touch and can become upset / aggressive if touched unexpectedly.

















A young person may be irritated by certain clothing eg seams, labels


Child may not be able to regulate their temperature e.g. not remove clothing when hot, wear warm clothing in cold weather

Child may not indicate pain (e.g. even aafter nasty fall)




May avoid messy play, touching baking ingredients, getting hands dirty

•    Ensure the child is seated near the back and side of the class so he can see others moving towards him.           •    Provide appropriate desk space, visual boundary may be useful          •   Delineate the area the child is to sit on during 'Circle Time' or floor work by using a carpet tile (even better give each child their own tile so as not to make the one child different). Ensure others are not sitting too close.          •    Ensure the child is either at the front or the back of the line for coming in/out class. Allow the child to be door monitor so he can hold the door open and all others can pass through ahead of him.

•    Arrange for the child to be allowed into the dinner hall ahead of their peers so he can get sorted and seated before the rush starts.
•    Forewarn the child before you touch him, by saying his name first and moving through his visual field to reach him.
•    Do not force the child to participate in messy play e.g. finger painting etc. but allow him alternatives such as using a paintbrush.

•   Discuss with parents and signpost to Falkirk Council ASD booklets which will give ideas for supporting children with activities of everyday living.

•   Support child to recognise their own needs through appropriate support to uderstand reasons regarding / health / social cues.

•   Be aware of need to exert caution when checking for potential injuries as pain may not be a useful indicator for this child


•    Encourage different types of messsy play to desensitise gradually, Use of gloves - being aware of allergies to certain materials

Visual Processing Issues  Responding to the needs of pupils with ASD

Child finds bright lights uncomfortable

•    Natural light is a better option than strip lighting, both from a visual and auditory perspective, so avoid artificial light sources if it is a bright day.
•    Allow the child to wear a skip cap; if not allowed in class then at least allow him to use in the playground and for PE classes being held outside.

Child uses vision as a stimulus.







Child may have strong visual skills and may not be able to "screen out"irrelevant stimuli   

or may be "hyper-visual" and see detail within the environment - will also have difficulty screenning out and focussing on task.


•    Keep classroom environment as clutter-free as possible. If your preferred teaching style is to have busy walls then ensure the child has a screened off workstation with high sides, blank walls and a visual timetable only.
•    Allow the child some small visual toys for their sensory box, that he may play with during timetabled 'sensory breaks'.


•   Try to reduce visual stimulation in relation to colour, patterns within the environment to prevent over-stimulation. Consider e.g clothing, jewellery

Auditory Processing Issues Responding to the needs of pupils with ASD

The child is easily distracted by loud or extraneous noise.

•    Shut doors or windows to reduce external noise.
•    Pre-warn the child before any tests of the fire alarm system.
•    Allow the child to use headphones whilst working.
•    Ear plugs might help in situations such as assembly/dinner hall etc. During assembly ensure the child is seated at the end of a row, next to the teacher/adult if possible.
•    Reduce the amount of electrical equipment used during times of concentration.
•    The noise of a pencil on paper can be uncomfortable and the child may prefer to use a ballpoint pen.
The child hums constantly (either to block out extraneous noise or because he is seeking auditory input). •    If the child needs to hum to concentrate, teach him to do so quietly. Position him in class where he is less distracting to others.
•    Giving the child a vibrating toy to hold in this hand whilst working, or allowing him to sit on a vibrating cushion can reduce the degree of humming.
Olfactory Processing Issues  Responding to the needs of pupils with ASD

The child is sensitive to smell.

•    Be aware that your perfume or aftershave might elicit an adverse reaction in a child with olfactory sensitivity.
•    Avoid the use of air fresheners etc in the classroom.
•    Be aware of the strong smells of some cleaning products.

•   Be aware of use of deodorants, particularly after PE, as this may lead to overstimulation and intense emotional responses.

Taste (Gustatory System)

Responding to the needs of pupils with ASD

Child may be restricted to a small number of foods


Child may be fearful of touching, smelling, licking or tasting a different type of food

•    Introduce  'Fun with food' sessions.

With no pressure to eat the food, gradually with gentle encouragement involve child in touching, passing, smelling, washing, cutting, licking, tasting ingredients. 

Movement Processing (Vestibular system)

Responding to the needs of pupils with ASD

Child may always be "on the go" and have difficulty sitting still

•    Provide opportunties for regular movement breaks and gross motor activities throught the day

•    Provide opportunities when appropriate for bouncing or jumping activities e.g. small trampoline, space hopper

•    Playground activities e.g. monkey bars, swings, seesaws, climbing frame

•    Move 'n sit (wobble) cushion for use in class  

Body Awareness 

Responding to the needs of pupils with ASD

Child may: 

  • appear clumsy, heavy handed
  • fatigue more easily than other children
  • seekout something to lie on  - floor, desk
  • have poor grading of movement and force
  • find 'lining up' difficult


•    Pushing / pulling or play activities which provide resistance

•    Catching / throwing activities

•    Scooterboard / gym ball

•    Push-ups / sit-ups

•    Pushing against a wall / another person

•    Resistance toys, fidgets

Concentration Issues Responding to the needs of pupils with ASD
The child needs to calm and focus. •    Get the whole class to do 'chair press-ups' prior to any writing activity.
•    Use weighted 'wheatgerm bags' laid over the child's knees, shoulders or back of the neck to provide additional proprioceptive input during desk based tasks.
•    Have plenty movement breaks throughout the day.
The child tends to rock in chair or fidget. •    Allow the child to play with a fidget toy whilst working and listening. Small keyrings or pencil toppers can be a discreet way of providing a 'fidget opportunity'.
•    Provide the child with a 'Movin'sit' cushion or allow them to sit on a therapy ball during periods when intense concentration is required.
•    Have plenty movement breaks throughout the day.
•    Use a 'Movin'sit' or therapy ball as above.
•    Carry out action songs ( e.g. 'Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes' or 'Alive, Alert, Awake, Enthusiastic') as a class activity prior to periods of concentration.
The child appears slouched or lethargic. •    Precede any period of sitting with a burst of active movement e.g. star jumps, skipping etc.
Organisational Skills Responding to the needs of pupils with ASD
Children with autism benefit from structure and routine. •    Use visual timetables to enable the child to know what comes next.
•    Use a timer for set pieces of work and for 'sensory breaks'.
•    Ensure that trays and workbooks are clearly labelled.
•    For secondary school pupils ensure that workbooks, timetables, school plans and classroom doors are colour coded.

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