Ten Top Tips to Support Secondary Students

  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.   Try to pre-empt when difficulties might arise and help the student to plan and prepare for change:

  • Always forewarn the student and tell them what to expect. Where possible give plenty of notice and help prepare for changes e.g. if there are going to be staff changes but even a little bit of notice is better than none.
  • Talk to those who know the student well including parents to identify triggers and what might help.

3.   Provide structure:

  •  Free choice can cause anxiety.  Things must be explicit and have a clear beginning, middle and end.  The student must always know:
    • Where should I be?
    • What am I doing?
    • How much do I have to do?
    • How do I know I have finished?
    • What will I need to do next?

4.   Use language that is clear, precise and concrete:

  • Check what the student has understood by asking them to repeat information back to you, rather than saying ‘do you understand?’
  • Reduce your language to avoid verbal overload.
  • Pause between instructions.
  • Beware of overloading with information or using rapid questioning.  Even able pupils may struggle with long instructions.

5.   Ensure you’ve got attention:

  • Begin with the student’s name to focus them in.  Don’t assume that the student is attending to you or that he knows the class rules apply to him.
  • Be precise – direct the student where to look e.g. board, book etc

6.   Consider sensory sensitivities:

  • Be aware of any sensitivity related to sound touch, light intensity, smell etc your student may have and try to minimise discomfort e.g. ear plugs, avoiding some sounds or listening to music can camouflage the sound.

7.   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.  Use written plans and timetables to provide structure to the lesson.  Use objects, photos, symbols, notes and drawings to scaffold learning and reinforce concepts.
  • Visual supports for curriculum access
  • Procedure lists
  • Mind maps and spider diagrams
  • Equipment choice board
  • Sentence strips for structured language teaching
  • Review sheets – did we use this in our lesson today?
  • Sequencing strip
  • Highlighting the essential information in a worksheet
  • Visual supports for organisation
  • Children with autism often have enormous difficulty with organising themselves for an activity or for work.  Staff will need to help them keep their work and activity materials organised and tidy in order to reduce disruption and anxiety.
  • Use an equipment checklist to help develop independence.
  • Using zipped bags, sorting trays, silhouettes of objects such as pencil cases etc will help students with autism focus on the salient elements of the activity.

8.   Reduce the child’s level of anxiety:

  • Try to recognise stress triggers and avoid or minimise where possible.
  • 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.
  • Questions such as ‘why did you do that’ or ‘What’s the matter?’ require higher levels of verbal reasoning and may be difficult for the student to explain. Try ‘tell me what happened?’ or explain the situation to them to develop their understanding.

9.   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.

10 .Support social interaction

  • With each other is an effective way of increasing learning.
  • Encourage prospective friendships e.g. provide structured social activities at break times or a quiet space for lunch club.
  • Teach turn taking and waiting skills. Recognise 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

Useful websites

Support for Education
The Autism Awareness course: Supporting effective education practise