Tips for teachers – autism in the classroom

Many learners will require support in the classroom for a variety of different reasons. More and more is being understood about autism and, as it is a spectrum disorder with behaviours that are varied from person to person, it’s important to know what can be done at school to ensure that the learner’s experience is as inclusive as possible.  

 ‘Inclusion is about the quality of a child's experience; how a child develops his or her skills, participates in the life of the school and learns and plays with children from a range of backgrounds. Many children with autism can be supported to play a full role in mainstream schools’ (National Autistic Society).

Sophie Thompson is a Specialist Occupational Therapist at The Toby Henderson Trust, an independently funded charity supporting children and young adults with autism, their families, and carers in the North East. Sophie specialises in working with children who have Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and has extensive experience working in mainstream and specialist schools. We asked Sophie for her top tops on managing autism in the classroom.


  1. Remember, every individual with autism is different.

Autism is a spectrum and although individuals can share common characteristics and traits, it’s important to remember that everyone is different.

Strategies and support that works for one person, does not always work for another. It’s important to spend time working with the individual and other staff involved with them to discuss their personal needs.   


  1. Your use of language and the way you communicate is important.

Many learners with autism can find some of the things we say and do a challenge.

Some learners with autism can take what we say literally. For example, if they have their hand up and you say “I will be with you in a minute”, they’ll often expect you to be there in that minute. If you are not, this can have a negative impact.

The use of idioms, for example, “you’re barking up the wrong tree” or “you’ve passed with flying colours” can often be misinterpreted for a learners with autism. 

Some learners with autism can also misinterpret the use of sarcasm, irony and humour. This can, at times, have a detrimental effect on your rapport and relationship with the learners. Again, it’s important to get to know the individual, so that you can avoid this happening.

Inference or reading between the lines can also be difficult. Therefore, they may need extra support when completing work that requires this skill.


  1. Where possible, incorporate a learner’s interests into your lesson.

Many learners with autism can have an obsessive interest about something. Where possible, plan these into your lesson to support with the learners learning and engagement.


  1. Be flexible in your teaching

Many things can affect a learners with autism. Changes in routines and structure such as seating plans or classroom changes can cause distress and/or anxiety.

It’s important to be flexible in your teaching, adapting the setting or work if a learner has come into school more unsettled than usual. 


  1. Consider your classroom environment

Many learners with autism have difficulties in areas of sensory processing. Being mindful of what difficulties an individual experiences, can help you provide the best support for them in your classroom and make any changes where necessary.

For example, if a learner has sensitivities to auditory input, ensure they are sitting next to other learners who are not going to create high levels of noise. The learner may also pick up on noises, so sitting them away from objects that can create background noise is beneficial e.g. the Smartboard.

Learners with sensory processing difficulties can easily become overwhelmed and may need additional support to get back to their optimal level for learning.


  1. Make your curriculum inclusive

It may also be valuable to consider your curriculum overall and whether the options available are inclusive to SEND learners. Statistics in a recently published report from the Department for Education have shown a positive correlation between learners who have studied a Technical Award and lower overall absence rates. Amongst the results, it was shown that learners with SEND support in mainstream schools who undertook a technical qualification had 21% lower exclusion rate than those who had not.


  1. Ensure you are comfortable in your own knowledge

If you want to improve your own knowledge of autism, you could explore a qualification as part of your CPD. We offer a number of free CPD qualifications, including a Level 2 Certificate in Understanding Autism, which are delivered by our premier partner, Learning Curve Group. Find out more about these qualifications and if you might be eligible here.

To find out more about the work that The Toby Henderson Trust does, you can visit their website.