Ten Top Tips to Support Early Years/Primary Children

1.   Allow for and respect the right to be different:

  • Adapt teaching and provision to the needs of your autistic students.
  • Accept, value and celebrate difference.
  • Don’t say ‘I can’t treat him/her any differently to the others…’
  • Have realistic expectations and think of where the child is at when planning for progression particularly with personal, social and emotional development.

2. Adjust your language:

  • Reduce your language; even able pupils may struggle with long instructions.
  • Avoid using phrases like: will you, can you, would you like to…. Write, sit, come with me etc rather use one or two words at a time and concentrate on the verb.
  • Think about what you want the child to do  rather than what you don’t want them to do e.g. “Joe feet on floor” rather than “Don’t climb on the chair” or “hand down” rather than ‘no hitting.’
  • Get your child’s attention by using their name; they do not see themselves as part of “everyone”.
  • Give instructions in the order events will happen e.g. “Toilet, coat on then playtime outside.”  Rather than ‘it’s playtime so go to the toilet and don’t forget to put your coat on.

3.   Check verbal processing:

  • Children with autism can experience significant difficulties processing language so when giving instructions or asking questions pause between sentences and give time for them to respond e.g. count to 5 slowly when waiting for an answer.  Be aware that other children can jump in and answer questions for them so make sure there are clear rules in discussion about turn taking.
  • Check that the student has understood what you said or want them to do and are not simply copying what other children around them are doing.

4.   Focus on conveying information visually:

  • Do not rely on verbal communication when you are teaching as receptive language processing is slow and verbal information can be hard to retain, once words are gone they’re gone!  Visual information including writing, pictures etc is there for longer and can be referred back to.
  • Symbols can be used to help with communication and will support understanding in the setting.  A child carrying a symbol is less likely to forget or be distracted when moving between activities or areas.
  • Other visual aids include gestures, photos, drawings and objects of reference e.g. duck for water, one piece of a jigsaw etc.
  • Sand timers can help demarcate activities and develop the child’s concept of time.
  • Break tasks down into small achievable chunks and visually define when these begin and end e.g. mark the page to show where to start and finish

5.   Stay Calm and be Positive:

  • Don’t attempt to tackle things on your own and try not to take them personally.
  • Stand back and try to look at the whole picture.
  • Adopt a calm, empathic approach with firmness and consistency.
  • Talk to those who know the child well including parents for strategies that have been successful.

6.   Use First/ Then to help children transfer attention:

  • First / Then is a visual way to prompt children to know what is happening next.  Begin teaching the use of first/then by offering two of the child’s preferred activities.  When they are secure moving from the first activity to the second you can begin to think about what motivates the child and use it to encourage them to try something they might resist.  You would put the desired motivating, activity second e.g. “First spellings – Then computer”.  This could be done with pictures or by showing the object which you are talking about e.g. a jig saw/ Thomas train.

7.   Provide structure:

  • Free choice can cause anxiety- Structure helps with organisation and sequencing.  It can reduce anxiety through offering safety in predictable routines simply by presenting a beginning, middle and end.  The child must always know:
    What do I need to do?
    Where will I do it?
    Who will I do it with me?
    How do I do it?
    How long will it last?
    What will happen next?

8. Reduce the child’s level of anxiety

  • Try to recognise stress triggers and avoid or minimise where possible.
  • Consider sensory sensitivities and try to minimise any discomfort they have around sound smell noise etc.
  • Remember behaviour is part of the child’s voice.  If there are challenging behaviours try to analyse underlying factors e.g. by using an ABC chart, ‘STAR’ or ‘iceberg’ (For advice on either of these approaches contact the Shine team)
  • Avoid confrontations but if the child’s behaviour deteriorates use known motivators to distract and help calm.
  • Return to the problem later when everyone is calm.
  • Pre-empt problems by preparing for change and giving plenty of warning.

9.   Promote opportunities for social Interaction:

  • Ensure social demands are not too great on the child.
  • Teach early interaction skills such as turn taking and waiting through play.
  • Be aware that group work may be very difficult without support.
  • Run social skills groups – providing students with regular opportunities to learn to co-operate and interact with each other is an effective way of increasing learning.

10.  Build in regular planned breaks:

  • Social situations are stressful.  Avoid exhaustion.
  • Allow individuals time to unwind and follow their obsession or preferred task.
  • Provide clearly defined breaks between activities.