Supporting students on the autism spectrum

Responding to the needs of students on the autism spectrum is critically important for educators working in a school setting. An awareness of the challenges, as well as the student’s skills and strengths, can assist teachers to address their needs in an inclusive way.

Researchers from the Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism surveyed educators, specialists, students with autism spectrum disorder and their families and carers to build a profile of the educational support needs of students on the spectrum. Here are some of the findings:

Social and emotional needs

Educators, specialists and parents identified the social and emotional needs of students on the autism spectrum (aged 5- to 18-years-old) as the top priority to ensure success at school. Strategies such as one-to-one or teacher aide support, working in small groups, calming or relaxation activities and the explicit teaching of prosocial behaviours were all cited as common ways to support students in this area.

Educators, specialists and parents all agreed that sensory experiences had the greatest impact on the students’ ability to participate and learn. Noise was identified as the highest rating sensory issue.

Think about how you manage noise levels in your classroom. How do noise levels affect a student’s ability to concentrate on the task at hand?

What students found helpful and challenging

The students who took part in the survey, who were all aged 11- to 18-years-old, were asked to rate how they felt about school activities. The 10 they found most difficult were:

  • Planning for assignments;
  • Working as part of a group;
  • Handwriting and being neat;
  • Coping with change;
  • Coping with bullying or teasing;
  • The speed at which they completed handwriting;
  • Copying information from the board;
  • Doing homework;
  • Staying calm when other kids annoyed them; and
  • Staying calm when the classroom is very noisy.

When asked what would help them at school, students identified technology (including to help with typing and their school work), being able to have a break, and having time away from others as the three top priorities. Other forms of support they rated highly included being reminded of pending changes to schedules, getting copies of things teachers wrote on the board, using special interests to do projects and having access to a quiet space to do assessment.

References: Saggers, B., et al (2015). Australian autism educational needs analysis - What are the needs of schools, parents and students on the autism spectrum? Full report. Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism: Brisbane.

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Teacher magazine and has been reproduced with the permission of the Australian Council for Educational Research. To read the full article and to read more articles like this visit