In a recent blog for Tes, I shared some of my top strategies for supporting learners with autism spectrum conditions (ASC) in the classroom.
Here is the second part of my advice for how to make learning accessible for these pupils.
1. Consult with pupils about your seating plan
When creating your seating plan, give priority to students with identified additional needs. When considering where to place a young person with ASC, consult with them to find out who they work well with and who is a distraction, although you will obviously have to use your professional judgement at the same time.
All young people with autism are different, so there are no hard and fast rules about where they should be seated in the classroom. Sensory distractions should be considered, but this can be tricky depending on the classroom and its location within the school. Careful seating arrangements can be useful in helping to promote friendships and positive relationships with peers.
2. Take a flexible approach to homework
Homework is the bête noir of many a young person with autism. This may be because they are confused about why they need to do work at home – after all, school is for work and home is for rest. Or, it could be that they are so incredibly drained from the stresses of the day that they actually just need time to unwind.
For some students, we have found that reducing homework to the core subjects – or eliminating it altogether, in more extreme cases – has been an enormous help.
Making sure that there is effective home-school communication around homework is also important. Sometimes students with ASC have forgotten what they need to do by the time they get home and if they do not have explicit and direct instruction they will struggle to know where to start.
I have made this mistake recently. I asked students to "learn their key words" on a list that I had given them, pertaining to their current unit of work. I found that some of my students with a diagnosis of ASC did learn their key words, but they didn't learn their meaning. I thought it was obvious what I wanted them to do. However, I clearly needed to be more explicit in my instruction.
"Camouflaged learning" is another option. One student I have worked with was excused from all homework because of the stress it caused at home. However, mum was keen to ensure the student did not fall behind. So teachers would email her homework so that she could subtly work with her child on these areas, without labelling it "homework". This will not work with everyone because it depends on the confidence and time commitments of the parents and carers, as well as the relationship between home and school – but it is something to consider.
3. Plan group work carefully
Group work can present lots of challenges to young people with ASC. However, collaboration plays a vital role in learning and is an essential life skill. The trick is to carefully select the members of groups. Do not allow pupils to select their own groups, as this can lead to all sorts of chaos and avoidable upset.
Ensure that the group work is structured and that each member has a role. Let any young people with ASC know in advance that a group work activity is coming up. This will help them to cope.
Most importantly, remember that while every young person with autism is different, there are ways of working together to ensure the best outcomes for each individual. The solutions may not be obvious at first and mistakes may be made, but it is about learning from these mistakes and collaborating with members of staff, outside professionals, parents and carers and, above all, with the young person themselves. After all, they are the true expert on what works best for them.
Gemma Corby is Sendco at Hobart High School, Norfolk. Her Sendco column for Tes runs every second Tuesday in term-time. To read Gemma's back catalogue, click here.