Teaching pupils with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

  • Tell the child what should be done rather than what should not be done, e.g. “Put your book in your schoolbag” – rather than “Don’t put your book under the desk”
  • Give the child an opportunity to explain things from his point of view.
  • Use visual clues to help explain things, e.g. when it is time to get ready for P.E. you could show a picture(s) illustrating this.
  • When giving instructions use simple language and keep them brief.

  • Do not use sarcasm or idiom as the child will not understand it, e.g. “Get your skates on!” is liable to cause confusion.
  • Puppets or teddies can be used to encourage interaction. It might be easier for a child to communicate through them. Action rhymes can encourage eye contact or facial expression.
  • You might also consider using a mirror in a one to one situation experimenting on making facial expressions and discussing what they mean.
  • Children with ASD can become quite anxious and emotional and can thrown ‘tantrums’. This can result in violent behaviour either towards self, others or equipment. It may be physical or verbal. Sometimes a soft play area is helpful if possible, or you could consider using a blanket to help calm child down. Chances of this happening can be reduced by warning him/her well in advance of any changes which are going to occur. Use humour when you see signs of distress to try and difuse the situation. You might consider asking him to walk up and down a corridor or similar to calm him down, with one of a ‘circle of friends’ if appropriate.
  • For pupils who don’t know what level of talking/shouting is appropriate, you could use a volume scale. Draw a scale, like a radio tuner with 0 to 10 on it; 0 being silent and 10 shouting loudly. You can use this to indicate how loud is appropriate at any one time.
  • The use of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) has been found to be beneficial for many children. This is a scientifically validated one-to-one approach where children are taught to respond appropriately to situations. At present N.Ireland does not have any specialised schools which offer this approach although there is one in the Republic of Ireland.
  • Autism in N.Ireland by Mickey Keenan (pdf) Discussion Group for Parents on ABA Some children with an ASD benefit from a very structured approach, e.g. tasks organised into colour-coded baskets which all necessary equipment. Once a task is finished the basket can be removed and the next one started. This helps because many children with an ASD cannot assess when an activity has been completed. TEACCH ( involves the use of visual schedules and work basket systems) a method sometimes recommended. Teachers’ Questions and Answers (pdf) Insights into Working with Pupils on the ASD spectrum Extra Help in School

Further Information

Case Studies
Report of the Task Force on Autism (RoI)
ASD Good Practice Guides 1 & 2
Teachers’ Questions and Answers
Understanding Autism
Social Skills (a US site which may be of interest)
Behavioural Programming for Children with Autism