Supporting autistic students

All autistic children and young people have different strengths and abilities. It is important that you understand how these may impact their learning.

Families are a key source of information for you as they know their child’s interests, dislikes, and what may trigger stress.

Approaches to the learning environment

Flexible and targeted approaches in supportive learning environments are essential.

Elements that guide these approaches include:

  • strong leadership
  • creating a culture of inclusion for all students
  • staff with up-to-date knowledge about the learning and support needs of autistic students
  • effective communication between all staff working with an autistic child or young person
  • a culture of team planning and a positive learning environment where students are comfortable and ready to learn
  • adapting the curriculum to build on student strengths and interests
  • social skills learning programs and information sharing between educators and families
  • support for autistic children and young people with autism to take part in and contribute to their community.

A cohesive and coordinated approach to teaching, learning and support is critical. All members of the educational community need to have a clear understanding of policies, procedures and obligations to guide everyday decisions, relationships and communication.

Educational leaders play a critical role in supporting autistic students to participate in their learning. They can do this by:

  • creating a culture of inclusion that celebrates the diversity of school communities, and values the contribution of all students
  • supporting staff to participate in professional learning to support the inclusion of autistic students
  • flexible future planning for autistic students
  • working in partnership with families and communities.

Reasonable adjustments

Reasonable adjustments often benefit not just the student involved, but the entire school.

To meet the individual needs of the student, schools can make reasonable adjustments:

  • in the classroom
  • in the playground
  • to excursions and camps
  • to the premises.

Examples of adjustments include:

  • providing students with a clear structure for each lesson
  • using technology and equipment such as noise cancelling headphones when it’s noisy to help students concentrate
  • offering learning materials in different ways, for example using visuals.

You can talk to the student's family, the student or the student support group to explore what adjustments may be suitable.

The learning environment

When supporting autistic students to access learning opportunities, careful consideration should be given to:

  • the physical, sensory and social environment
  • positive interaction with other students
  • developing independence
  • building their ability to manage change.

Planning for transitions

Transitions to primary, secondary and post-school can be challenging for children and young adults and need careful planning.

For more information, refer to:

Assessment and reporting

It is important to establish an accurate student profile of strengths, interests and learning and support needs to inform personalised learning and support planning.

Assessment of autistic children and young people needs to be personalised and relies on careful observation and identification of areas of interest and ability as well as skills that need further development.

Assessment is best carried out across a range of environments and with information collected from different sources, including parents and specialists.

Flexible systems need to be in place for recording and reporting on individual progress and outcomes. Standard approaches to assessment may not always be suitable. Adjustments to formal testing may be needed to make sure there’s accurate recognition and reporting of achievements.

For more information, refer to:

Individual education plans

Autistic children and young people may benefit from an Individual Education Plan (IEP).

An IEP is a written statement of the educational program designed to meet a student’s individual needs. It is important to work with the child’s family when identifying learning goals, and to create ways to achieve these goals.

Collaboration between the student’s teachers is also important to make sure their learning and behavioural strategies are consistent in every class.

Teaching and learning

Structured and clearly communicated teaching approaches and expectations may benefit autistic children and young people. This may also apply to:

  • presentation of tasks
  • timetables
  • learning environments.

Teaching approaches need to be well-defined with clear communication supported by visual materials, where appropriate.

Extra assistance

Extra resources may also be available to give extra support to schools and autistic students. This may include: