What Secondary School Teachers Need To Know About Teaching Children With Autism

I always tell teachers that good autism teaching is good everyone teaching – because the truth is that if you can get it right for a child with autism, you can get it right for everyone else in the class too.

Every child on the Spectrum is different so there is no definitive one size fits all strategy that will work as a magic wand, but the following considerations are likely to make school a little easier for those with  Autism in your classes.

Treat parents as your allies.

All too often the parents of children with Autism are treated as an inconvenience, but working with them can make a huge difference. They know their child better than anyone else and will have some fantastic strategies to share that will work for their child – all you have to do is listen. If there is something their child is doing well give them a call and let them know – they will appreciate it more than you know – but likewise if their child is struggling let them know and ask for their help. The best outcomes for children happen when parents and teachers work together, and this is something that doesn’t happen again.

Remember that all behaviour happens for a reason.

If a child is struggling to behave the way you need them to in class, try to figure out why. Working out the trigger or function of the behaviour, is a much quicker and more productive way to solve it than giving sanctions. Talk to the student and ask them to open with you about why they are exhibiting the behaviours they are. Once you know the why you are half way towards finding a solution.

Take a little time to get to know them.

The multiple changes and different rules in each class are incredibly difficult for young people with autism to cope with. Making your class the one they want to go to is far easier than you think. Spend a little time each lesson getting to know them and finding out their special interest and you really will be surprised at the difference. Find a way of incorporating that interest of your lesson and their learning can be transformed. What’s more – it’s easier to do than you think and you don’t need to deviate from the curriculum. Why not find out who their favourite character is, and ask them to devise resources to teach that character about the topic you are learning? It’s differentiation that will make you no extra work, but that will make an enormous difference to the motivation levels of many young people.

Don’t underestimate how hard homework is for them to complete.

The divide between home and school is often a significant one for young people on the Spectrum. What belongs at home belongs at home, what belongs at school belongs at school. Making the transition between the two, by completing school work at home can cause enormous amounts of anxiety. Look at ways in conjunction with parents about how to make this easier, for some young people a quiet place to complete the work during the school day can make a big difference, for others careful communication between home and school so that parents fully understand the task is the answer, but for some homework is best avoided altogether. The balance of the harm being done through the rise in a student’s stress levels should always be assessed against any academic benefit they are gaining from completing the task.

Remember that Anxiety presents itself indifferent forms.

I have lost count of the number of times we have got home from a day out – a day that I have assumed my daughter hasn’t enjoyed – for her to turn around and tell me she has had a wonderful time. Her face has often told a different story. And I know the same is true for many of my students. Be aware and sensitive to the fact that the expression (which may well look like belligerence or boredom) on a student’s face may not tell the full story. Sometimes even when a student is enjoying a lesson or an experience their anxiety levels stop them from showing it.

For others anxiety may show as outright defiance, or refusal to complete a task. Relieving the anxiety and removing as much pressure as possible is often the best way to accomplish what needs to come. Sanctions rarely work on a student whose anxiety is making them feel that they cannot work, quite simply because their actions are out of their control.


Saying what you mean has a huge impact.

Remember that young people with autism will take what you say at face value, so think before you speak. Make sure if you ask them to do something your instructions are both literal and clear. Likewise if you say something is going to happen ensure that it does. There is nothing that will break your relationship with a student more quickly than them feeling that you have promised something which later diesn’t happen.

Last but not least remember that the small things can make a huge difference.

People all too often assume that differentiation is about paperwork, extra resources and long winded planning. But the truth is it is far more about mindset, about flexibility, about being willing to learn about the individual.

Why not check out our post about ten things you can do to make your classroom more autism friendly for strategies you can easily put into place.

What Now?

Why not join our lovely, friendly Facebook Group full of parents and teachers working together to share strategies to help our children.

If you do want to learn more you might find our autism section a useful place to start. It’s full of different strategies to try out.

Or if you’re looking for more personal support, why not check out our Consultancy Services.

As always if you have any questions at all please don’t hesitate to get in touch, I’m more than happy to help.

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