Options and Choices: Autism
Here is a selection of some of the main strategies that might be used to address respective needs. These are just the main strategies so additional links to further useful resources are also included.
These strategies are divided into universal or inclusive approaches that can be applied for the benefit of all learners, and more specific interventions that may be needed over and above these to benefit students with specific needs.
As you work through these, things about which of them would have been most beneficial to Anwar and Daniel’s situations.
Universal design / inclusive practice solutions
The principal here is that by predicting the needs of a wide range of learners in the design of learning programmes, we can negate the need for specialist and sometime intrusive interventions. In the context of autism, these solutions will likely need to work alongside more specialist support such as counsellors and specialist support tutors.
Teachers should utilise a range of teaching pedagogy that is inclusive. This might include:
- Use of multi-media and delivery methods in teaching sessions
- Including a variety of activities within programmes of study, such as questions, discussions, practical activities, etc.
- Clearly define all tasks in advance, including assessment and group activity. This to include clearly defined tasks, instructions and deadlines and clear outcomes Provision of a glossary of main terms and concepts for all topics. This is most useful if in advance of starting teaching in this subject area.
- Facilitating the recording of lectures and group sessions by individual students. NOTE: Though lecture capture may exist, students being able to record content themselves and sync this with their note-taking software or strategy is often preferable to listening back to whole lectures.
- Recording and making available all synchronous (live) online learning to enable students to access and review content afterwards.
- Providing accessible electronic formats of lecture notes and presentations and supervision handouts, in advance on the VLE. This is so that electronic notes can be made during the lecture/supervision. At least 24-48 hours in advance is considered desirable.
- Ensure captioning (subtitles) of all video materials.
- Build in sufficient time during question-and-answer sessions and group discussion to enable students with communication barriers to formulate ideas and take part in discussions.
- Ensure students can take rest breaks in teaching and assessment activities if needed.
- Allow time at the end of teaching for students to ask clarification questions or raise issues.
Inclusive practice in-class
- Provide a safe environment within which disclosure of a disability or long- term medical condition is supported and encouraged. Encourage people to contact you if they have accessibility or other issues.
- Set out clear expectations and guidance on behaviours in class – including embracing and supporting diversity and embracing others different working styles
- Outline and reinforce group/class discussion protocols e.g. one person speaking at a time, introduce yourself before you speak, allow other speakers to finish.
- Repeat key learning points and points made by fellow students, to aid understanding in class
- Make sure students can see you, the whiteboard and/or screen at all times.
- Ensure you make eye contact and face all students, thus including everyone in classroom discussions.
- Use a microphone in larger rooms.
Inclusive practice online
Many of the principles above apply equally in an online environment but just need to be delivered differently. These might include for example, consideration of clarity of instructions and clear and unambiguous communication and materials accompanying asynchronous (recorded) lectures etc.
For live (synchronous) teaching, additional considerations might be:
- Clear advance notice of timings, what to expect and how this fits with assignment tasks etc. Reminders may be required here – with texts working better than emails.
- Advance notice of any activities or tasks with clear explanations of how they will work.
- Proactive check-ins with students afterwards to gauge understanding of key instructions.
- Recording the session and circulating this to students.
For online group work or collaborative activity, clear expectations in terms of cameras being on and/or off and use of online forums should be set out at the start. There is some evidence that students actually find cameras being off more un-nerving than them being on so clear expectations around this are likely to be beneficial.
As with face-to-face teaching, it is important not to assume that students are disengaged because they do not fully participate all the time or play a proactive part in discussions and activities. At the same time, it is good to check afterwards.
A key barrier to students accessing online learning has been lack of information and support about how to use the platforms themselves. It should not be assumed that students have the technical or practical ability to access online learning so support and information about this at the outset and throughout teaching should be considered (many universities have dedicated teams to support this activity).
Induction / course information
- Engage in transition and induction activities to ensure that a connection with students is made. This helps students to put a face to the name.
- Students should be encouraged to take up specialist university and other support. Tutors should support them in this, if necessary, by being aware of the support available and being aware of the appropriate referral routes.
Evidence shows that teaching staff can play a key role in connecting students to appropriate support services e.g. counselling services
- Offering clear guidance on how, when and where students can expect to access teaching staff.
- Acknowledge that some students will find it harder to adapt to a new level of study and may need additional guidance or support during transition into university.
Student support / Personal tutoring
- Allocate a single point of contact for students to speak to about issues relating to their course. At the University of Worcester this role is called a Personal Academic Tutor (PAT). This tutor should ensure that regular reviews are being held with students to ensure that their support needs are being met.
- When providing one to one tutor support, always consider the learning journey (and life journey) of the student to date. Don’t make assumptions. Ask.
- Provide written feedback in accessible formats from all one-to-one sessions and tutorials*. This will ensure students do not have to worry about taking extensive notes. *It is accepted that sometimes co-design of these notes by the student and tutor is desirable.
- Anticipate the broadest range of student needs, experiences and preferences in your course design.
- Offer alternative methods for students to demonstrate achievement of learning outcomes e.g. through written, visual or verbal methods. Clearly outline what is required in each and offer support with new methods.
- Embed diversity and inclusion and disability awareness concepts in the curricula.
- Ensure that course requirements such as learning outcomes are clearly written.
- Ensure sensitive timetabling to accommodate the time it takes for some students to travel between different learning activities
- Provide consistent timetables and locations for all teaching activities.
- 24 hours+ notice of any changes should be given to ensure students can plan for the journey, find the venue and arrange human support if necessary.
- Provide clear course guidelines and notification of deadlines, well in advance
- Were possible work with other tutors to stagger assessments deadlines so that these do not all come at once.
- Integrate key study skills support within the curricula to ensure anxiety about these is reduced.
The learning environment
It is important to consider physical accessibility of learning environments at all times.
Access might relate to the physical accessibility of the rooms themselves.
- Are facilities such as parking spaces, lifts and toilets nearby (and are these accessible)?
- Are corridors, entrances and doors accessible (e.g. wide enough?
- Can students easily navigate within rooms (particularly if they need to leave or if group work is involved).
However, there is more to accessible learning environments than physical access to the room itself. Ask:
- Is there space to adapt layout and move furniture
- Is lighting appropriate and can it be adjusted
- Can background noise levels be avoided/reduced?
- Is accessible technology such as microphones and hearing loops available (and can tutors use it)?
- Can everyone see and hear tutors, whiteboards and screens etc?
Over and above the more general principles of universal or inclusive teaching set out above, there are some more specific interventions that may be needed over and above these to benefit students with specific needs. Some of these are outlined below:
- Tutors should ensure that they are fully aware of University support options and referral routes to specialist support. Evidence shows that teaching staff play a key role in connecting students to appropriate support services e.g. Disability Service, mental health support etc
- Involvement of specialist services (e.g. Disability teams) in induction so students are made fully aware of funding (such as Disabled Students Allowance in the UK) and other support.
- Courses should ensure that students have a designated person to speak to and tutors need to ensure they know who this is (see PAT above). This is particularly important during induction and transition. Identify someone who can reliably act as a facilitator of support for the student should issues emerge or ensure someone else has taken on this role. This role may need to be enhanced for some autistic students and consideration be made of more flexible arrangements for contact.
- It may be beneficial for specialist staff and teaching staff to meet with students with autism on a regular basis to track progress and pick up any emerging issues.
- Include Autism Spectrum examples in curricula. This encourages trust and a culture of openness, builds understanding of different perspectives and reduces stigma.
- Should they require it, ensure autistic students have the opportunity to work in quiet environments, particularly during group activity and personal projects.
- Identify formal or informal buddying and peer support for students who may benefit from it.
- Offer sensitive and appropriate feedback. Focus on content and clarity rather than delivery (eye contact etc). Ensure feedback is clear and unambiguous. Check understanding.
- Offer alternative assessment options (formative and summative) e.g.
- Allowing students to select their own group for group activities. Working with friends or people they are comfortable with benefits autistic students. This might of course apply to all students.
- Presenting online or to a smaller number of people e.g. their tutor.
- Working in smaller group sizes
- Allow students with autism to work on their own and not in a group (this might be a solution early on but most autistic students will welcome working in groups subject to the right conditions).
- Specialised lab or workshop setting for the student
- Allocating a peer to support them
- Separated organised tool racks / equipment racks.
- Seated in a specific place