Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

This term applies to a range of language and communication disorders that overlap.

The child will have some degree of difficulty in the following three areas known as the triad of impairment:

  1. Social interaction
  2. Communication
  3. Thought and imagination

A diagnosis can only be made by a medical professional.

Implications for School

  • Poor social interaction.
  • The child has difficulty empathising, recognising the feelings/behaviours of others and seeing other perspectives.
  • They may seem withdrawn, making little attempt to make friends.
  • Their behaviour may be described as "odd", they may have difficulty matching appropriate responses to situations or seem overly-aggressive.
  • They may have difficulty interpreting social situations and may become distressed or confused.


  • They have difficulty making sense of and using verbal and non-verbal communication such as eye contact and facial expression.
  • Some have language delay.
  • They may use repetitive phrases, speak with an accent (eg. American) and repeat phrases from television.
  • Others appear to have a good use of language, but have difficulties in understanding.
  • Their understanding is literal and they have difficulty with - for example - humour, irony, figurative language, idiom etc.

Thought and Imagination

  • They tend not to participate in imaginative play.
  • They may have difficulty with imaginative writing or writing from another's perspective.
  • They may develop obsessive and imaginative interests, wishing only to play with those toys or write/draw those things.
  • Changes in routine can cause distress; routines help them make sense of their environment.

In Addition...

  • They may be hypersensitive to noise, particular sounds or touch and find, for example, the yard or Assembly difficult.
  • They may develop coping mechanisms such as rocking, hand flapping, fiddling with certain items, withdrawing or becoming aggressive.
  • They may have unusual eating habits - eg. refusing foods of a certain texture or colour.
  • They may develop a strange gait or posture - eg. walking on tiptoe.
  • They may be hyperactive.
  • They may have irrational fears or phobias, these are very individual - eg. it may manifest as refusing to participate in a certain activity.
  • They may have difficulties with dressing and other activities which require sequencing or co-ordination. Even secondary age pupils may have difficulty with activities such as tying shoelaces.


  • Help them make sense of the physical environment - label objects or specific areas, younger children may benefit from a "map" of the classroom or school.
  • Use a visual timetable and task list, so they know what is coming next.
  • Give clear, simple instructions to them individually as they may not realise that "everyone" includes them.
  • Anticipate stressful situations - eg. allow them to leave a few minutes earlier for lunch to avoid noisy queues and corridors.
  • Acknowledge the need for personal space - facilitate individual work areas if necessary.
  • Be aware that they will find group work difficult.
  • Consider possible triggers such as excess light, noise etc.
  • Introduce only one skill at a time.
  • Use "obsessions" as rewards.
  • Teach them to recognise behaviours, emotions and body language - eg. through role-play.
  • Don't insist on eye contact.
  • Use social stories.
  • Teach jokes, puns and metaphors.
  • Develop a buddy system - eg. a Circle of Friends.
  • Make use of computers.