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Social imagination / flexible thinking

Resistance to change and insistence on sameness, such as always taking the same route, may be reflected in pupils finding it challenging to cope with new, unfamiliar or unexpected situations.

Hassim kept a notice on his desk to remind him it was ‘ok’ to make a mistake. He had made a list of several things he could do if he thought  he had made mistake and they were ‘ok’ to follow.

Jack, in primary 7, was so distressed when a supply teacher was in class he could not do any work and told the classroom assistant that all he could think  about was “when it would be time to go home.”

Being unable to predict what will happen next can affect the ability to move from one activity or environment to another (transition). It can also cause extreme anxiety and be a major cause of behaviour issues.  Many pupils with autism have trouble taking on the perspective of another person, which can affect their ability to recognise , understand or predict the feelings of other people and possible reactions. They are unlikely to predict the consequences of their own behaviour.

Pupils with high functioning autism can learn some things quickly and easily, but sometimes they learn by rote. This means there may be limited understanding of what they have learnt and how to use it in different situations.

Karen had thorough knowledge of the text involved in part of her English exam and had practised questions successfully. As she had difficulty organising her time she had additional time allocated and someone to prompt her as to how long she had taken, and what time was left. Karen became so focussed on giving all the information she had in first answer (worth 1 point) she did not acknowledge the prompt and spent 20minutes on this. She was very upset when she did not have time to complete the whole paper (questions worth 5, 4 and 2 points).

While many people with autism have excellent memories for things like dates, facts and figures, they seem to lack a meaningful framework to store and access memories relating to personal experience.

Mark very much enjoyed cooking in school. Although he had Food Technology every Tuesday, more ofte than not forgot his money or container to take it home. It was agreed with Mark and his mum to put a reminder on his computer for Monday nights to collect money and container and put in his bag.

Pupils with autism typically have limited skills in creative and imaginative play. Many enjoy activities such as lining up toys or objects or games which sometimes give the impression of imaginative play, but often the child is copying a scene from a favourite film or tv program or ideas are stereotyped and repetitive

There is often an obsessive preoccupation with one or more interest, object or routine. While new interests will develop during different stages in life, involvement in daily activities can be significantly affected by these interests, placing great stress on parents, siblings and teachers. However, they can be used to motivate the child to participate in learning tasks.

Difficulties with Social imagination may affect ability to

  • accept others’ points of view
  • accept changes in routine
  • cope with ‘mistakes’
  • be aware of unwritten rules (‘hidden curriculum’)
  • deal with rules being broken
  • organise their time as well as equipment


Toolbox 2009

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