While each individual is different, there are some differences in communication, behaviour and sensory processing that are relatively common among children and young people with autism.
An understanding of these differences can help you to support your pupils in the classroom.
Some autistic people are non-speaking. Some speak minimally, and others can be hyperverbal. They might also repeat specific words, phrases or noises.
Some autistic people may have typical or very good speech and language skills, but struggle to use their voice in groups. This often derives from anxiety, or previous experience of their communication skills being judged or invalidated.
Autistic people are often expected to conform to social norms and expectations. This can lead to them engaging in masking.
This involves suppressing certain behaviours, or mimicking others in order to fit in. This can be exhausting, and cause increased anxiety and burnout.
This may mean that autistic people prefer to spend time their time alone, which can lead to isolation and loneliness.
Some autistic children and young people may engage in repetitive play and activities. They might have intense and specific interests and focus deeply on one thing.
They may find it difficult to transition away from these activities. Transitions that aren’t properly managed can lead to distress and meltdowns.
Some autistic people may also make repetitive movements, such as flapping or finger-twirling. This is known as stimming. This can help autistic children and young people to process information, and to calm themselves down when they are excited or overwhelmed.
You shouldn’t prevent a child or young person from stimming. This can make them more anxious and stop them processing information.
Sensory processing differences
Some autistic people may find some stimuli, such as certain lights or sounds, to be uncomfortable. They may hear or perceive sensory information that non-autistic people don’t, such as noise from lights or electricity buzzing.
This can be overwhelming, and cause differences in the way autistic people behave or respond. This can lead non-autistic people to presume that an autistic person is ’behaving badly’ or trying to be disruptive in the classroom.