Autism Disorder:

Children with Autism are described as having a triad of impairments that affects their ability to understand the world and interact with those around them. This triad consists of:

• Difficulties understanding social interaction and behaviour- which affects their ability to interact with their peers and adults,
• Problems with verbal and non-verbal communication- this may include a delay in the development of language, echolalia, unusual vocabulary, comprehension and language processing difficulties etc. Non- verbal difficulties include difficulties interpreting social cues, body language or facial expressions, as well as difficulties around empathising with others. Gestures may be stilted or stiff.
• A lack of flexibility of thinking and imagination. This can manifest as poor symbolic imagination and can lead to the development of repetitive activities and routines, or restrictive, narrow play. Symbolic play and joint attention are impaired, and can result in the child having limited motivation to engage in activities for joint enjoyment or shared attention. These children also have great difficulty in understanding what other people are thinking- what Professor Uta Frith termed Theory of Mind, and can have great difficulty in forming empathy.

As well as this triad, children with autism nearly always present with:

• Sensory processing difficulties.

Some people with autism would claim that as far as they are concerned, the triad above has limited impact as they personally do not see the great need for social engagement, communication or a symbolic imagination. What affected them most and had greatest impact for them in their daily life were their sensory processing difficulties.

Because of such sensory issues children with autism may engage in hand flapping, rocking or spinning. They often demonstrate heightened sensitivity to touch, noise, taste, smell or visual stimuli. Sensory processing and regulation difficulties can also manifest in disrupted sleep patterns, unusual eating habits, or irrational fears or phobias. They may also be the route cause of apparent hyperactivity, or aggressive or self-injurious behaviour in certain individuals with autism.
Many children with autism also have a reduced sensitivity or an over sensitivity to pain.

Helpful strategies include:

• Adjustments to the environment to accommodate the student’s over sensitivity or under sensitivity to touch, noise, light, smell, movement or taste.
• Structured routines and environments. (see TEACCH)
• Structure the classroom to reduce anxiety levels in the student so that he or she is more available to learn
• Introduce visual cues and prompts, and non-verbal communication system when beneficial for the child (e.g. PECs, Lamh, Hannon)
• Keep instruction, whether verbal or visual to a minimum, and as simple as it can possibly be
• When the student is upset or distressed use even less verbal language- verbal language only further escalates the confusion for the student, and do not raise your voice
• Consider the Sensory needs and difficulties of the student and introduce programmes to meet these needs. Seek appropriate professional guidance and support
• Provide lots of opportunities for movement breaks so that the student can get up and dispel some physical tension.
• Keep surprises to a minimum and give adequate warning and explanations for unscheduled change

Approaches in schools in Ireland vary greatly in the provision for students with ASD. Each child is a unique individual, and there are many interventions and methodologies that can benefit a child with ASD. Any decision on approaches to be used should be based on an informed decision which takes the individual needs of the child as a focus as well as an in-depth knowledge of the personality and learning strengths of the student.

Professional input and support is essential- seek help from an Autism Multi-disciplinary Team if it exists in your area. Training for school personnel is available at present from the Department of Education and Science, SESS in some of the approaches listed below. See for further details:
Beginner references have been included:

• TEACCH- see
• Applied Behavioural Analysis- see Alberto, P. A. and Troutman, A.C. (Eighth Edition 2008) Applied Behaviour Analysis for Teachers, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall
• DIR Floortime- see
• Multi Sensory Integration – see
• Enhanced Communication- PECs – see
- Lamh – see
• Social Stories – see
Remember that children with ASD are first and foremost children. They have very individual personalities, areas of ability and weakness, likes and dislikes, and love praise! They just need extra support, patience and above all understanding from everyone around them.

Additional Resources and References


(Special Education Support Service ) - use as a portal to range of sites associated with multiple disabilities including ASD. Also contains PDF formats of a number of significant reports including
Report of the Task Force on Autism (2001)- Department of Education and Science
Opening the Spectrum- Insights into Working with Pupils on the Autistic Spectrum, (2006) Monaghan: Special Educational Needs Cross Border Exchange Programme.
Autistic Spectrum Disorder: A Guide to Classroom Practice, Belfast (2003), Department of Education, Northern Ireland
National Centre for Technology in Education has information on ICT with a range of disabilities including ASD - includes information about how to get an assessment and diagnosis -Irish Society for Autism - autism in northern Ireland, former PAPA site - information on ABA - The official site of the Asperger Syndrome Association of Ireland. - portal to range of websites and references about autism -website of the National Autistic Society, UK - Dr. Temple Grandin’s website - portal to number of American sites on Autism -free games and resources which are autism specific -the original social story


Books can be ordered on line from: - Outside the Box - Jessica Kingsley publications