30 things every teacher should know about autism in the classroom (2023)

As education continues to evolve and autism is on the rise (autism is believed to affect 1 in 43!), more teachers are welcoming students with autism into their classrooms. While teaching a child with autism can seem daunting, it can often be one of the most rewarding parts of an educator's career. Here are 30 things every teacher should know about autism in the classroom.

If you know a child with autism, you know a child with autism.

As the common saying goes, "If you know a child with autism, you've met a child with autism." It is important for teachers to remember that all children on the autism spectrum are unique and what defines one need not define the other. While some autistic children don't speak, others have amazing talents for things like music and art.

See too:What are the 10 most common signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

It is possible for a child with autism to move up the spectrum.

As a teacher, you are likely to see a lot of detailed scientific documentation about your student's autism diagnosis. But remember that a child shouldn't be pigeonholed as their place on the spectrum. Even a student who is considered a failure can move up the spectrum with the right therapy.

Like all children, children with autism have strengths and weaknesses.

As with any child in the classroom, people on the autism spectrum have their own strengths and weaknesses. Some are good at memorization but have difficulty reading and pronouncing words phonetically. Teachers need to be prepared for a child who struggles with subjects to varying degrees (or not).

Respect the standards.

Children on the autism spectrum tend to benefit from repetition and routine. Teachers can help make a student's school life as stress-free as possible by understanding the child's routine and sticking to it as much as possible. This could very well prevent a tantrum, meltdown and unnecessary stress. Consider planning each school day the same way to form your own class routine, as studies have shown that a consistent routine benefits all children, not just those on the autism spectrum.

(Video) Autism Spectrum Disorder: 10 things you should know

Pay attention to sensory issues: what they are and why they might be a problem.

You probably don't recognize your own sensory issues when you have them. If the music is too loud, turn the volume down; If it's too hot, take off your sweater. But children on the autism spectrum cannot deal with sensory issues like neurotypical people, because their senses tend to provide unreliable information. Before welcoming an autistic child into the classroom, teachers need to know exactly what the sensory issues are and what types of sensory issues they are likely to encounter in the classroom.

Get used to the swing, rhythm and beats.

Children on the autism spectrum often exhibit behaviors known as stimming. These behaviors may include hand movements, rocking, turning or walking. While these stimulating behaviors can be distracting to both the teacher and other students, teachers would do well to recognize that this type of behavior is not meant to be distracting. Rather, it is a repetitive pattern that the child finds comforting.

Give instructions in as few words as possible.

Children on the autism spectrum often have trouble understanding verbal instructions. When giving instructions, use as few words as possible so that the autistic child has less to process. If necessary, give the child with autism instructions separately.

Be prepared to give instructions in a variety of ways.

Likewise, teachers may need to find multiple ways to provide guidance. Providing visual aids and/or written instructions in a few easy-to-follow steps can be very helpful for an autistic child who has trouble processing verbal instructions.

Social situations are difficult for children on the autism spectrum.

Children on the autism spectrum have difficulty reading social cues, which can create confusion and discomfort among the child and peers. Teachers can help by paying close attention to their classroom's social environment and modeling appropriate behavior for everyone when necessary.

Don't be afraid to spend time teaching very specific rules and social skills.

If necessary, teachers should not be afraid to spend time teaching an autistic student very specific rules and social skills. Examples include lining up for the slide, asking a neighbor for a pencil sharpener, or congratulating the winning team after a dodgeball game.

(Video) Autism Spectrum : Tips For Teachers : Nip in the Bud

Don't take hurtful words personally.

Because children with autism often lack social skills, they sometimes make comments that we would consider mean or inappropriate. Teachers must be prepared to hear these offensive words. Instead of taking feedback personally, teachers need to find the strength to lead by example with words of praise and positivity.

Don't surprise your autistic students with changes.

As mentioned above, children with autism thrive on routine. A simple change in this routine, even if it is seen as a fun surprise for other children, can be disastrous. If a routine change is planned or likely to occur, simply alert the autistic student so that he or she can begin preparations. Examples of changes might be new seat assignments, a fire drill, or an excursion.

Children on the autism spectrum often struggle with motor skills.

It is not uncommon for children with autism to have motor difficulties. Therefore, it may be beneficial for teachers to consider alternatives to handwriting for students with autism in the classroom, eg B. an iPad or a laptop.

Understand that children with autism need more time to process language.

Perhaps one of the most important things all teachers should know about autism in the classroom is that children on the autism spectrum need more time to process language. If you get a blank stare after giving verbal instructions, understand that the child is probably still processing. Help him by repeating the instructions using the same words. Changing the words only requires you to restart the process.

An autistic child has many ideas and opinions, even if he cannot verbalize them.

Some autistic children don't talk, but that doesn't mean they don't have anything to say. Expect your autistic students to have as many ideas and opinions as any other student, although you may need to encourage sharing those ideas a little differently.

You cannot communicate with a child with autism the same way you would with another child.

While you can communicate with other students using sarcasm, idioms, or raising your voice, understand that these types of things don't have the same effect on a child with autism. An autistic child will also not understand if you compare him or her to a sibling or another student, or if you bring up old or unrelated events. This type of communication is confusing at best. At worst, they're scary.

(Video) A Day in the Life: Navigating autism into adulthood

Use positive reinforcement instead of punishment.

Just as certain methods of communication are not effective when talking to a child on the autism spectrum, neither is it a punishment. Children with autism tend to misinterpret negative punishment, but respond much better to positive reinforcement. Discuss with the child's parents which methods of punishment and discipline they find most effective.

Use downtime as positive reinforcement.

As mentioned above, a child on the autism spectrum has senses that work overtime and provide unreliable information. As you can probably imagine, this is exhausting. When an autistic child meets the standards set for him, give him time off as a reward. This can be as simple as sitting in a corner with a book and headphones for 10 minutes. Let the child relax.

Give an autistic child time and space to self-regulate.

Spending time in the corner with a book and headphones doesn't always have to be a reward. In fact, a teacher may feel that giving the child regular time to relax is best for everyone.

Students on the autism spectrum have many special interests.

Students on the autism spectrum often exhibit special interests (read: obsessions). While teachers don't always have to satisfy these interests, they can be used as a motivational tool for learning. For example, if a child has a strong interest in computers, using computer time as a reward can be very beneficial. When appropriate, teachers may also find it helpful to relate what is being learned to the child's interests.

Remain calm even during the “worst” behavior.

It is important to remember that children on the autism spectrum do not disappear to cause a disorder. Instead, they melt because all their senses are confused and it's the only thing they can do. As a teacher, the best thing you can do is continue to be a calming, supportive presence. The world during a meltdown is scary enough; The child does not need a panicked or angry teacher to add him.

Speak literally.

Because children on the autism spectrum take longer to process things they hear verbally, they do better if the teacher speaks literally. Tell the child exactly what you want to say, without using similes, metaphors or idioms.

(Video) Teaching Kids with Autism

Avoid even the most common expressions.

Children on the autism spectrum have difficulty understanding common phrases such as "hunting wild geese", "turning your back on someone", or "trying your own medicine". Teachers would create less confusion if they simply avoided them.

Present clear choices to your autistic students.

All children, including those on the autism spectrum, benefit from clear choices. Try not to ask open-ended questions like, "What activity would you like to do during recess today?" Instead, ask, "Would you rather play Sharks and Minnows or Capture the Flag?" Clear decisions like this allow for less turnaround time, fewer arguments, and a greater sense of community in the classroom.

Use photos and examples of what a finished product will look like.

As noted above, students on the autism spectrum have difficulty understanding anything that is not literal. They also take longer to process the information. When starting projects, it can be helpful for the teacher to show students an example of a finished product. This gives students a clear view of what they are working on.

Sudden changes in behavior often indicate anxiety.

Living on the autism spectrum means living with a sensory system that constantly bombards you with information that may or may not be accurate. If you notice an abrupt change in your autistic student's behavior, it is important to know that it is probably not the case that the student is choosing to behave maliciously to gain attention or entertainment. Rather, he or she may be scared because of something in the environment.

Remember that your classroom environment can be very stimulating for a child with autism.

Classrooms these days tend to be preoccupied with color and texture. While you might like decor like this, too many bright colors with no room for the eyes to rest can overwhelm the sensory system of a student with autism. Consider toning down the decor to include less embellishment, less intense colors, and a place (perhaps at the front of the room) for the child to rest their eyes. In fact, you'll likely find that a less stimulating classroom is beneficial for all of your students.

Take care of the child in free time and on vacation.

Like any child, a student on the autism spectrum needs the experience of socialization during after-hours activities such as lunch and recess. The student, and almost certainly their parents, would appreciate extra attention to ensure that these social times are beneficial and not unduly difficult for the student or their classmates.

(Video) 7 Early Signs of Autism Every Parent Should Know

Know that repetitive actions calm a child with autism.

We've already discussed the habit of "tuning in": repetitive movements like rocking that a child on the autism spectrum uses to reduce anxiety. But getting a sense of calm through repetition isn't something reserved for pacing. Instead, teachers can instill a sense of calm in all students by maintaining and following a routine (for the day, changing subjects, making lunch, etc.).

Offer any help needed with the organization.

Organization is a skill that must be taught. While many children struggle to keep themselves neat and tidy, teachers may find that their autistic students have particular difficulties with this. Teachers can help by unpacking, transitioning, and packing until the student has made these schedules a routine. Frequent desk checks are also beneficial as students realize that their rooms must remain clean and tidy.

Love your student with autism like any other child in your class.

After all, children on the autism spectrum are children first and foremost. They are sweet, funny and loving and will win your heart. Love your autistic students like any other child in your classroom.


What do teachers need to know about students with autism? ›

Every child with autism is unique. Some children are nonverbal and may never be able to speak. Many children with autism are highly intelligent and learn to read and write at an early age. Some children with an autism diagnosis can have an unbelievable gift for math, music, or art.

What are the most important things to know about autism? ›

Autism spectrum disorder now affects 1 in 68 children. Boys are nearly 5 times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ASD. Autism spectrum disorder is one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the United States. ASD is more common than childhood cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined.

What should teachers consider when working with students with autism? ›

Here are six tips to help your students with autism thrive in the classroom.
  • Avoid sensory overload. Many unexpected things can be distracting to students with autism. ...
  • Use visuals. ...
  • Be predictable. ...
  • Keep language concrete. ...
  • Directly teach social skills. ...
  • Treat students as individuals.
Mar 15, 2016

What skills are most important for teachers of children with autism spectrum disorders? ›

  • 10 Characteristics of Great Autism Support Teachers.
  • Empathy. Empathy is a must! ...
  • Patience. Patience is a virtue! ...
  • Knowledge. Staying knowledgeable on diagnoses and disorders that students have in a teacher's classroom is important. ...
  • Attentiveness. ...
  • Curiosity. ...
  • Adaptive. ...
  • Creative.

What are 5 strategies used to work with a child with autism? ›

The 5 Best Teaching Strategies for Autism
  • Support Routines and Transitions. Most children with autism are sensitive to abrupt changes in routine and will learn best in routine situations. ...
  • Use Visual Cues. ...
  • Use Special Interests as a Gateway to Teaching Skills. ...
  • Incorporate Sensory Tools. ...
  • Support social skills practice.
Nov 5, 2019

What are 10 interesting facts about autism? ›

  • 1) You are born with autism. ...
  • 2) You can't grow out of autism. ...
  • 3) Autistic people are better at some things. ...
  • 4) Adults can be diagnosed with autism. ...
  • 5) There are more people with autism than we know. ...
  • 6) More men have autism than women. ...
  • 7) Stimming is not always bad. ...
  • 8)The autism spectrum is not linear.
Mar 29, 2018

What are some fun facts about autism? ›

5 Facts about Autism that will Blow Your Mind
  • Autism means alone. The word “autism” is derived from the Greek word “autos” meaning self. ...
  • It is more common than other common diseases. ...
  • Dogs are Autistic-Friendly. ...
  • Autism occurs more often in boys. ...
  • Who is at Risk for Autism?
Nov 26, 2021

What are the three pillars of autism? ›

These disorders are characterized by three core deficits: impaired communication, impaired reciprocal social interaction and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviors or interests.

How do you manage autism in the classroom? ›

Specific strategies for creating an autism-friendly classroom include: Set up an organised classroom where there are places for resources, stationary and personal belongings and teaching the students how to access the resources in an appropriate manner; Plan strategies along with places and times for calming breaks.

How do you make an autism friendly classroom? ›

Twelve tips for setting up an ASD Friendly Classroom by Principal Kendrick
  1. Keep it structured. Children with autism thrive in a structured environment. ...
  2. Use visuals. ...
  3. Use Schedules (Timetables) ...
  4. Reduce distractions. ...
  5. Use concrete language. ...
  6. Remember, it's not personal. ...
  7. ManageTransitions. ...
  8. Establish independence.

How do you keep an autistic child focused in the classroom? ›

Strive for quality rather than quantity. Smaller assignments broken down over chunks of time can help the child stay calm and focused. Make positive comments such as “It's going well,” “You're doing fine,” and “Well done.” Kids with autism need the boost in self-esteem.

What are the 7 essential teaching skills? ›

Here is a list of some Skills for Teachers to develop a better relationship with students and make teaching more fruitful:
  • Understanding of the Subject.
  • Communication.
  • Continuous Learning.
  • Leadership.
  • Creativity.
  • Adaptability.
  • Internet-savvy.

What are the 3 most important roles of a special education teacher? ›

Special education teachers typically do the following: Assess students' skills and determine their educational needs. Adapt general lessons to meet students' needs. Develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for each student.

What teaching approach is most commonly used by autism specialists? ›

ABA in the classroom, in the home, and in a therapeutic setting are most often used with children and adults who have autism or a type of developmental disorder.

What are the 10 things a teacher should be able to do and know? ›

10 Things Every New Teacher Should Know
  • Classroom Management Is Key. ...
  • Build a Classroom Community. ...
  • More to Math than Measurements. ...
  • Flexibility is Critical. ...
  • There's No Manual. ...
  • The Common Core Isn't Everything. ...
  • Mentors (and Summers) Are Integral. ...
  • Literacy Affects Everything.

What is the most important thing a teacher must do? ›

Building relationships with students is by far the most important thing a teacher can do. Without a solid foundation and relationships built on trust and respect, no quality learning will happen.

What knowledge should teachers know? ›

Elementary school teachers must have content mastery in basic math, literacy, social studies and science. High school teachers, who usually specialize in only one or two subject areas, must have a thorough knowledge and understanding of their area of specialty. Teachers also need to know how children learn.

What activities autism friendly? ›

Autism-friendly experiences generally reduce volume level, overlapping sounds (announcements being made over music for example), very bright and/or flashing lights, strong smells, and potentially challenging tactile experiences.

What activities help autism? ›

10 Therapeutic Activities for Children with Autism
  • 1) Pool Noodles!
  • 2) Create sensory bins full of fun items.
  • 3) Create a safe sensory time-out area.
  • 4) Sensory Swings for Autism.
  • 5) Visual schedules.
  • 6) Make an obstacle course.
  • 7) Sensory and calm-down bottles.
  • 8) Playground and outdoor activities.

What is the best activity for autistic child? ›

Hobbies such as collecting stamps, playing cards or board games, drawing and photography can also provide opportunities for enjoyment, as well as increased self-confidence and motivation individuals on the spectrum.

What is the IQ of an autistic child? ›

But years later, in 2014, a U.S. study found that almost half of the children with ASD had average or above average intelligence, that is, an IQ score above 85. Less than a third of the children with autism had intellectual disability, and 23% had IQ scores in the "borderline range" from 71 to 85.

What is autism mostly caused by? ›

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. Some people with ASD have a known difference, such as a genetic condition. Other causes are not yet known.

Which characteristic is most common to autism? ›

People with ASD often have problems with social communication and interaction, and restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests. People with ASD may also have different ways of learning, moving, or paying attention. It is important to note that some people without ASD might also have some of these symptoms.

What is autism best described as? ›

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental disorder that affects how people interact with others, communicate, learn, and behave. Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is described as a “developmental disorder” because symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life.

Who is high risk for autism? ›

Advanced parental age at time of conception. Prenatal exposure to air pollution or certain pesticides. Maternal obesity, diabetes, or immune system disorders. Extreme prematurity or very low birth weight.

Why is autism so common today? ›

The global increase in autism prevalence reflects major improvements in public awareness and public health response to autism. Children are now more likely to be diagnosed earlier, and even underrepresented regions like Africa and the Middle East have been advancing their ability to measure autism prevalence.

What is the gold standard for autism? ›

This thorough review often takes into account the results of standardized tools – such as observations and interviews – that offer a uniform way to define behaviors. This approach for diagnosing ASD, also known as clinical judgment, is considered the “gold standard” in ASD classification.

What is mindblindness in autism? ›

Mind-blindness, mindblindness or mind blindness is a theory initially developed in 1990 that explains autistic people as having a lack or developmental delay of theory of mind (ToM), meaning they are unable to attribute mental states to others.

What are the emotional needs of autism? ›

Autistic children and teenagers experience a range of emotions, but they might need support to recognise, understand and manage their emotions. For example, your autistic child might feel all negative or unpleasant emotions as anger. Or they might not recognise when they're excited.

How do you motivate a student with autism? ›

Incorporate learning tasks into preferred topics and activities. Plan tasks and activities that result in meaningful outcomes from the perspective of the learner. Vary tasks and activities frequently as opposed to requiring boring repetition. Conversely, capture opportunities to expand learning when interest is high.

How do autistic students learn best? ›

Some autistic children will learn reading more easily with phonics, and others will learn best by memorizing whole words.

What should an autism classroom look like? ›

Creating a well-designed classroom that has clearly defined work stations and visual cues can greatly increase the independence of your students. Make sure you have plenty of visual cues, reduce clutter, and as much as possible remove distracting visuals and auditory stimulation.

What are the 5 C's for teachers? ›

The essential components of an excellent education today embody much more than the traditional three R's. Past President of NAIS, Pat Bassett, identifies Five C's – critical thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration and character, as the skills that will be in demand and will be rewarded in this century.

What are the 12 teaching skills? ›

12 Skills Teachers Require to be Effective in Teaching
  • Discipline Skills. ...
  • Classroom Management Skills. ...
  • Observation Skills. ...
  • Student Engagement Skills. ...
  • Strong Communication Skills with Students and Parents. ...
  • Teaching Skills. ...
  • Subject Matter Expertise. ...
  • Time Management Skills.
Feb 12, 2018

What are the 4 P's of teaching? ›

There are also the current academic gap between the teaching constructs and efficacy. This study has compared how these and other teaching strategies have evaluated the efficacy of creativity derived from the 4Ps model (person, process, press, and product).

How do you deal with special needs children in the classroom? ›

Teaching Tips for Students with Special Needs
  1. Keep your classroom organized. ...
  2. Remember that each child is an individual. ...
  3. Give your students opportunities for success. ...
  4. Create a support network. ...
  5. Keep things simple.

What makes a good special needs teacher? ›

Alongside empathy, relationship building, communication skills and flexibility, the other key skill needed is a positive outlook. As an SEN teacher, you may face extremely challenging or disruptive behaviour, and being able to see the end goal is really important.

Why is it important for teachers to understand ASD? ›

Students with autism have unique learning styles. Teachers can support these students by incorporating their strengths and needs when planning for instruc- tion. This thoughtful preparation will help students with autism maximize their potential and make valuable contributions to class discussions and activities.

What are the educational needs of students with autism? ›

Instructional support is often needed within the classroom setting. Students with autism learn better with pictures and demonstrations. Limit long verbal instructions and provide visual cues and written instructions, when possible. Also limit distractions and use positive rewards for positive behaviors.

How should teachers prepare students with autism to prevent challenging? ›

Establish a classroom behavior plan for all students to promote expected behaviors. Develop an individualized Positive Behavior Support Plan for each student with autism. Provide behavior specific feedback and ample praise and reinforcement. Catch your students being good and reward!

What are three tips for teaching high functioning individuals with autism? ›

Use a written or verbal schedule to prepare for change. Use positive and chronologically age-appropriate behavior procedures. Avoid “babying” your student on the spectrum by over-supporting his/her or speaking at a level associated with younger students. Consistent treatment and expectations from everyone is vital.

How can teachers successfully integrate students on the autism spectrum into their classroom? ›

A sample of these strategies include the use of visuals, being clear with instructions, implementing reward systems, and receiving feedback from teachers and peers.

How do you calm an autistic child in the classroom? ›

How to Calm a Child with Autism in the Classroom
  1. Stick to a Routine. Perhaps the best way to keep a child calm with autism is to limit their frustrations in the first place! ...
  2. Practice Deep Breathing. ...
  3. Soothe with the Senses. ...
  4. Provide an Escape from Sensory Overload.
May 25, 2018


1. Author and Autism Advocate Jennifer Cook: What Elementary Teachers Should Know About Autistic Kids
(Reading Rockets)
2. 10 things parents of kids with autism wish you knew | Autism Speaks
(Autism Speaks)
3. Teaching Children with Autism
(Teachings in Education)
4. 30. Classroom Tips and Strategies from The Autism Helper, w/Sasha Long - Autism Podcast (Full Int)
(Global Autism Project)
5. 13 Things ALL Teachers HATE about School!
(JianHao Tan)
6. 6 Things Educators and School Staff Should Know About FASD
(Cognitive Supports)


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