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World Autism Awareness Day

Student studying by window.

What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates and interacts with the world.

ASD is the diagnosis given to a wide spectrum of difficulties – with one end of the spectrum being individuals with severe learning disabilities and lack of speech, and the other being people of above average intelligence, possibly with extreme ability in some areas.  The difficulties experienced and their impact are very much individual and people on the spectrum need to be supported in a person-centred way.

  • The three main areas of difficulty are; social interaction, language and communication and flexibility of thought (imagination)
  • Positive traits include; honesty, focus, reliability, dedication, determination and being meticulous in the execution of tasks
  • Social difficulties include managing and maintaining friendships, understanding conversation conventions, and working co-operatively
  • May struggle with unstructured parts of the day
  • Language can often be taken literally
  • Difficulties in understanding idioms and jokes or sarcasm
  • Empathy – difficulty in understanding the views and feelings of others
  • Sensory issues – eg discomfort around loud noises, bright lights, particular scents
  • A need for structure and routine
Potential impact on daily life and Learning
  • Likely to need structure and routine – and may become anxious with sudden change
  • May become uncomfortable if not able to complete a task
  • May be unable to make judgements about the amount of work appropriate for a task
  • Communication difficulties, including poor non-verbal communication
  • May take time to process and retain information
  • May dominate conversations or discuss inappropriate topics or special interests
  • May have repetitive speech patterns
  • Difficulty with empathy or in forming friendships and relationships
  • May have personal hygiene issues due to sensory sensitivity
  • Movements (e.g., walking) and posture may seem uncomfortable.
Strategies to Support Learning
  • Refer to their Individual Support Plan
  • Keep instructions short and simple
  • Use their name to gain their attention
  • Don’t insist on eye contact
  • Be aware of their difficulty to interpret facial expression
  • Give them time to process information
  • Check understanding by asking open questions
  • Ensure understanding of homework before they leave
  • Ensure that group work is carried out within a trusted friendship group
  • Back up verbal instructions with written instructions
  • Try to ignore what appears to be rudeness
  • Provide a predictable schedule with fewer transitions throughout the day
  • Maintain a safe environment
  • Give advanced notice of any changes in routine
  • Provide positive reinforcement of good behaviour
  • Encourage organisational skills – putting appointments onto calendar, colour coding timetable and folders, setting times.
  • Be mindful of sensitivity to light, smell or noise

Myths & Facts about Autism

Find out more