Autism: Strategies for Teaching mildly Autistic Learners in my Class


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Inclusive education in South Africa necessitates an understanding of Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) among teachers. Autism is a lifelong developmental condition that affects how a person experiences the world around them. It primarily impacts social interaction, communication, and sensory processing. Educators require effective teaching strategies to support autistic learners within different classroom situations, fostering an inclusive learning environment for all learners.


Social Challenges:

  • Autistic learners might struggle to understand social cues like facial expressions and body language.

  • They may find it difficult to make friends, participate in group activities, or take turns.

  • They have difficulty making eye contact or maintaining conversations.

Communication Difficulties:

  • Some learners might be nonspeaking[1] or have limited verbal communication.

  • Others might speak fluently but have trouble with conversation flow or express themselves clearly. They might also be very literal in their understanding of language.

  • Some use repetitive language or echolalia (repeating words or phrases).

  • Some learners have difficulty understanding abstract language or figurative speech.

Repetitive Behaviours:

  • Autistic learners might engage in repetitive behaviours like rocking, flapping their hands, or lining things up.

  • They might Insist on routines or rituals, becoming upset by changes in routine.

  • They might also have intense interests in specific topics and become very knowledgeable about them. This fixation on particular interests or subjects may lead to the exclusion of other activities.

Sensory Processing:

  • Autistic learners can be over- or under-sensitive to sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or touch. This can lead to meltdowns or shutdowns in overwhelming situations.



  • Use a learnerís name before giving instructions.

  • Every autistic learner is unique, but some might share similar struggles and need a little extra help in the classroom. The key is to tap into their passions and what they are good at. When they feel comfortable, they are more likely to open up. So, give them a chance to talk about the things they love whenever they're keen.

  • An individual workstation can be of benefit.

  • We should make reasonable changes to help with any issues regarding fine motor difficulties such as typing rather than writing, speech or text software.

Create a Structured Environment:

  • Establish clear routines and visual schedules to provide predictability and reduce anxiety.

  • Use visual supports such as picture schedules, visual timetables, and visual cues to aid understanding.

  • Do not penalize learners for behavioural variations that are typical of autism, like challenges with making eye contact or a preference for quieter surroundings over-crowded ones.

  • Prepare learners for changes to their routine whenever possible.

  • Speak to your learners using positive words. Instead of saying what you don't want them to do, tell them what you want them to do.

Provide Clear Instructions:

  • Offer simple, concise instructions using concrete language.

  • Avoid open-ended questions and figurative language.

  • Break tasks into smaller steps and use visual demonstrations to reinforce understanding.

  • Create attainable goals for tasks, involve learners in discussions about these objectives, and encourage them to contribute their own ideas and targets to foster their engagement and motivation.

  • Give your learners ample time to contemplate and digest requests or information before expecting a response.

Use Visual Supports:

  • Incorporate visual aids such as visual schedules, picture cards, and visual cues to facilitate communication and comprehension. This caters to their visual learning style and reduces confusion.

  • Give examples of completed work so that learners can see the intended outcome of an assignment.

Promote Social Skills Development:

  • Teach social skills explicitly through role-playing, social stories, and group activities.

  • Provide opportunities for structured social interactions and peer modelling to support social development.

  • Don't expect your learners to accept or return eye contact.

Offer Sensory Accommodations:

  • Create a sensory-friendly classroom environment by minimizing distractions and providing sensory accommodations such as fidget tools (stress balls, sensory bands, or textured objects that can be manipulated to provide sensory stimulation), noise-cancelling headphones, or designated quiet areas.

  • Be mindful of potential sensory triggers in the classroom (bright lights, loud noises, etc).

Provide Positive Reinforcement:

  • Use positive reinforcement and praise to motivate and encourage desired behaviours.

  • Recognize and celebrate small achievements, providing frequent feedback and encouragement.

Celebrate Differences: 

  • Create a classroom environment that celebrates diversity and understanding.  Encourage empathy and acceptance among all learners.

Collaborate with Support Professionals:

  • Work closely with special education professionals, therapists, and support staff to develop individualized education plans or behaviour intervention plans.

  • egular communication and collaboration ensure coordinated support across all educational settings.

By implementing these strategies, teachers can create an inclusive learning environment where autistic learners can thrive alongside their peers. Tailoring instruction to meet the individual needs of each learner fosters a supportive and inclusive classroom environment.


World Autism Awareness Day, 2 April: