Fact sheet  for information on  education and Autism, an Autism Spectrum Disorder


Autism Spectrum Disorders such as autism and Asperger's syndrome cause issues in crucial areas of development:

• Verbal and nonverbal communication

• Social interaction

• Imaginative or creative play

• Sensory processing.

Children on the autism spectrum may have trouble understanding or communicating their needs to teachers and fellow students. They can have difficulty understanding some classroom directions and instruction, along with subtle vocal and facial cues of teachers. Inappropriate social interaction can lead to challenging behaviors, bullying, and ostracizing. Difficulties with imaginative or creative play hamper interactions with other children and mean that many teaching strategies will not be effective. Sensory issues mean a student may not cope with noisy environments, being touched by others, or maintaining eye contact.


This inability to fully decipher the world around them often makes education stressful for the child, and teachers often report that they find it difficult to meet the needs of students on the autism spectrum.


Teachers need to be aware of a student’s disorder, and ideally should have specific training in autism education, so that they are able to help the student get the best out of his or her classroom experiences.


Some basic strategies for the classroom

Visual aids

Some students learn more effectively with visual aids as they are better able to understand material presented visually. Because of this, many teachers create “visual schedules” for their autistic students. This allows students to concretely see what is going on throughout the day, so they know what to prepare for and what activity they will be doing next. Some autistic children have trouble going from one activity to the next, so this visual schedule can help to reduce stress.


Structure and routine

Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders usually do not cope with chaotic unpredictable environments. Teachers can provide support by providing the child with timetables and the steps for activities.


Working in pairs

Research has shown that working in pairs may be beneficial in teaching autistic children. These students have problems not only with language and communication, but with socialization as well. By facilitating peer interaction, teachers can help these students make friends, which in turn can help them cope with problems. This can help them to become more integrated into the mainstream environment of the classroom.


Teacher's aide to help autistic students

A teacher’s aide can also be useful to the student. The aide is able to give more elaborate directions that the teacher may not have time to explain to the autistic child and can help the child to stay at a equivalent level to the rest of the class through the special one-on-one instruction. However, some argue that students with one-on-one aides may become overly dependent on the help, thus leading to difficulty with independence later on.

There are many different techniques that teachers can use to assist their students. A teacher needs to become familiar with the child’s disorder to know what will work best with that particular child. Every child is going to be different and teachers have to be able to adjust with every one of them.


Reducing anxiety in the classroom

Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders sometimes have high levels of anxiety and stress, particularly in social environments like school. If a student exhibits aggressive or explosive behavior, it is important for educational teams to recognize the impact of stress and anxiety. Preparing students for new situations, such as through writing social stories, can lower anxiety. Teaching social and emotional concepts using systematic teaching approaches such as The Incredible 5-Point Scale or other cognitive behavioral strategies can increase a student’s ability to control excessive behavioral reactions.


Choosing the appropriate school

As with many disabilities, in the past students on the autism spectrum were kept separate fromn 'normal' children as much as possible. However, the past few decades have seen a trend to integrate these students into the regular system as much as possible. Debate exists on whether this is the best option given the specific needs of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (Shaddock 2003). Some teachers in both the specialized and regular education systems believe that integration into regular schooling is often let down by inadequate training, support and resources (Danne, Beirne-Smith & Latham 2000).


The choices of education systems available may be limited. Parents may live in a country or rural area where nothing exists other than the regular school system. Parents may opt for home-based schooling if they have the time, commitment and willingness to learn all the strategies they will need to teach effectively. Costs can also be a major factor if specialized schools or support need to be paid for.


In some cases, a child on the autism spectrum can be taught partly in both a special education program and the regular classroom. This is an example of an integration model where the student has specialized or home-based education but is increasingly included in regular schools as the child can cope.


These integration models are based on a growing trend to provide a 'continuum of care' model, where individualized support tapers off as a child learns the skills needed to study in regular schools. Ideally, there is a range of specific schools for autistic students, then special classes in the regular system, then support in the regular system i.e. teacher's aide, tutoring.


Key elements to successful education

Research into Autism Spectrum Disorders in an educational context indicates that there are a number of criteria for appropriate education of children on the autism spectrum (Rose, Dunlap, Huber & Kincaid 2003):
• Specialized curriculum content

• Classroom support

• Specialized teaching methods

• Coordinated team approach

• Modifiying the environment
• Supports and services for students and families
• Structured learning environments

• Collaboration with home-schooling where required
• Functional approach to problem behaviour
• Involvement of the parents
• Social support and positive attitude by all involved
• Recurrent evaluation of inclusion procedures.


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A child with Autism, Aspergers or other Autism Spectrum Disorder will require different approaches to teaching