I have been working in specialist education for the past few years. I’ve recently moved to a wonderful secondary school with a communication support service, supporting pupils with core communication needs and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
I was going to offer you my own tips on working with pupils with ASD, but I thought it might be more powerful if you heard how they feel about school and got some tips from them. I've brought these together below:
Walking through the school
We find this a bit difficult at busy times. There can be so many people all having different conversations and it can be really noisy for us. People brushing into us can also be distracting and off putting, especially if a really big or heavy bag does it. It’s a big school and sometimes some of us get confused about where we should be going.
Tip: It’s helpful for us to leave the class a few minutes early to get ahead of the rush. This is a really easy thing teachers could do to help us.
A parent's view: How to make schools better for autistic pupils
Autism: ‘The new term is a fraught time for autistic pupils’
Behaviour and autism: ‘Dare to see the reasons behind behaviour’
School in general
Sometimes it can be scary, with lots of strangers coming into the school, like the men in the yellow jackets. Some people don’t like the wasps that come into classes, and focus on them rather than work. We don’t like the fire alarm at all – too noisy and then too many people all at once.
Tip: If you see a wasp or something else which could be scary, then show that you’re trying to get rid of it to put the anxious pupil at ease.
Lots of things can make us anxious in a classroom. The temperature being too hot or too cold can really affect our mood. Too many smells (experiments/canteen/perfume/cut grass/lunch boxes) can put people off. Lights flickering can really make us unfocused – it can be easier to concentrate on that rather than the teacher. Noise from other places in the school can be distracting, so a quiet class will help students succeed.
Tip: If you see a light flickering in the class, please report it immediately then at least we know you are aware and attempting to fix it. It’s a small thing for you but a big thing for us.
The support staff who help us in class are not necessarily there to teach us, but it’s important that teachers recognise we still want to be taught by them, too. Sometimes the work can be hard, so we might need a little bit more time to process everything. Working with a partner can be good for us but sometimes it makes people more stressed, so please ask us about it first.
Tip: Although most teachers are great at remembering to teach us, please remember other staff can help us, too.
These are are just a few simple things from ASD pupils' perspective. I hope they will help you reflect on your practice – what may seem like small things to us teachers can be big issues for these young people.
Adam Black is a primary teacher in Scotland who, in the New Year's Honours list, received the British Empire Medal for raising awareness of stammering. He tweets @adam_black23