Skip to main content
Printable page generated Wednesday, 17 July 2024, 11:33 AM
Use 'Print preview' to check the number of pages and printer settings.
Print functionality varies between browsers.
Unless otherwise stated, copyright © 2024 The Open University, all rights reserved.
Printable page generated Wednesday, 17 July 2024, 11:33 AM

5 Supporting learners and families

5 Supporting learners and families

Described image
Supporting learners and families.

In this section, you will explore the following areas:

5.1 Effective communication and collaborative partnerships

Described image
Figure 16 Effective communication

Each learner and their family are unique and supporting the development of positive relationships between practitioners and the family is critically important to provide effective support. These relationships are interconnected as highlighted in Figure 16. Parents, carers and learners each have different experiences of the journey through the diagnostic pathway, and reactions to diagnosis vary from distress and disbelief to relief and positive feelings that they now better understand how autism affects them and their family.

Effective communication, respect and collaborative partnership working between schools and families are key requirements. They are essential in supporting appropriate and effective learning and teaching. Practitioners must recognise and sensitively respect the experiences of autistic learners and their families who will naturally have queries and concerns during their educational journey. At all times, good communication will keep parents and staff informed in a two-way exchange to support their unique autistic child/learner.

A positive partnership, with mutual respect between the teacher/practitioner and parent/carer, is essential to achieve progression in the autistic learner’s life and learning. It is important for everyone in the partnership to recognise that social and emotional development and skills for resilience in life are equally as important as academic learning.

Building an effective partnership with families to support their autistic child through their educational journey and helping them prepare for post-school settings is required by all practitioners and local authority education staff. This is required at both the individual level and the wider level. For example:

  • School management and staff should be aware of the autistic learners in their community.
  • The local authority should work proactively with local autism networks and support groups and ensure information on additional support within their region is easily accessible. It is helpful to include information on the autism network support group and should include support services for learners, families and practitioners funded by the Scottish Government. For example:
    • Enquire – Independent and impartial advice on additional support needs.
    • Let's Talk ASN – An advocacy and legal representation service.
    • My Rights, My Say. – Children's service which provides independent advice and information, advocacy support and legal representation.
    • Further details of services can be found on the Toolbox and in Section 9. Helpful Signposting and Information.

5.2 Visual supports

Visual supports can be very helpful in helping learners with a range of additional support needs. They support communication and can be used in various environments and locations and in many situations. For some autistic learners, they are a vital communication support. It is helpful to have consistency at home and in the early years setting/school.

Visual supports can be presented in a variety of ways and using a variety of content. For example, they can be created very easily with:

  • drawings
  • photographs, including photographs of objects and rooms/areas the autistic learner uses
  • symbols
  • clip art
  • objects
  • written word.

Visual supports can be printed and laminated on A4-size paper or made smaller and attached to a keyring, which is accessible by the learner. Staff may carry a keyring as well to prompt and model use.

It can be tempting not to use visual supports with cognitively able or more competent communicators. However, even if these supports are not relied upon day to day, they can often become crucial when this competent learner is under stress.


Visual supports can:

  • be personalised
  • help to provide structure and routine
  • encourage independence
  • develop confidence
  • improve understanding
  • reduce frustration and anxiety
  • support opportunities for positive social communication
  • provide a consistent and visual approach to communication which the autistic learner may find easier to access and process than the spoken language.

All autistic learners are likely to benefit from developmentally appropriate visual supports. This information can be explored during transition planning, parental/carer meetings, professional meetings and, of course, with the learner who may have their own preferences of presentation styles and images.

5.3 Supporting activities of daily living

This module and the Toolbox highlights that each learner is an individual and effective communication between practitioners and the family can support the autistic learner to engage in activities of daily living. Developing the skills to carry out activities of daily living are crucial to a person’s independence and their ability to take part in the wider world. As well as the individual skill, opportunities or adaptations in the environment can help or hinder meaningful participation in these activities. Independence in activities of daily living can be an area of support need. For a child to dress independently, they don’t just need the motor skills, they also need motivation, understanding of why they are doing it and might be assisted by, for example, laying clothes out in the order that they will be put on, a visual sequencer or physical prompts (handing items to them). For example, sensory processing differences, difficulties in social understanding and motor issues may all impact together negatively for the task of being able to dress independently.

Activity 15

Explore the ‘Supporting Activities of Daily Living’ section on the Toolbox which provides information and suggestions. This will be required for the end-of-module quiz.

5.4 Considerations for educational staff

It is highly likely that all staff will have an autistic learner in their class at some stage.

This module and the Toolbox provide a range of appropriate information, guidance and resources to help education staff meet the needs of their autistic learners and their families and welcome them into the school community.

Staff need to consider their pedagogical approaches to ensure their early years setting, school and classroom are environments in which autistic learners feel safe, healthy and happy, active, nurtured, achieving, respected, responsible, and included.

Activity 16 Reflective Log

Note down what is important for teachers and colleagues to embed into their practice.

Select here to see some examples.

  • Understand the individual learner, consider their strengths and needs.
  • Build relationships with parents or carers.
  • Engage with other agencies and staff involved with the learner.
  • Make appropriate adjustments to teaching and learning for the learner; ensure that the school curriculum is accessible (through the way in which activities are presented, modifications to the curriculum are made as required and specific consideration of the social curriculum). This approach is a legal requirement for children and young people who have a disability and will also be supportive to many more learners, with and without additional support needs.
  • Work in partnership with parents/carers – they will have suggestions of what works well for their child.
  • Ensure parents and carers are aware of the supports in place.
  • Develop an enabling environment that takes account of physical, communication and social aspects.

Back to index