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Understanding autism
Understanding autism

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3 Education

Decisions about nursery and school often pose huge challenges for autistic children and their families. Ensuring that an autistic child is in the right environment is further complicated by the fact that a substantial number of children arrive at school with no diagnosis – their difficulties are first picked up by a teacher. Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism may only become apparent in the teenage years.

Even if the diagnosis is known, teachers with more able autistic pupils in their class may not be able to reconcile their academic abilities with their communication difficulties and the difficulties experienced in navigating the social world. As Luke Beardon stated:

The fact that I am well-spoken, and my condition isn’t obvious worked against me being understood, when my behaviour may have been put down to obstinacy, deviancy, pure eccentricity, or by school peers as being ‘mental’.

(Beardon and Edmonds, 2007)

Activity 1 Autism and mainstream school

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Drawing on your knowledge of autism characteristics outlined in Week 2 [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]   and the psychological theories outlined in Week 4, use the space below to note down issues that an autistic child might have in a mainstream school setting. Base your notes on a child who has language skills and is academically able.

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Even a child with good language and academic skills is likely to encounter challenges. The main areas of challenge are likely to include:

  • the physical and sensory environment, e.g. sounds, colours and smells to which the child is hypersensitive
  • cognition and the curriculum, e.g. the child may have difficulty overriding their focus on a particular topic of interest, or organising their activities through the school day
  • the social environment of the school, e.g. the child may find proximity with other children difficult, or may try to make friends and feel excluded.

More detail of these challenges is given in the following section.