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Overcoming the barriers to inclusion for pupils on the autism spectrum – Part one

This two part blog series has been provided by Andrew Cutting of the National Autistic Society (NAS). Since 1962 NAS have been providing support and guidance to those affected by autism. To find out more about their fantastic work click here.

In the academic year 2011 to 2012 , 2,750 pupils on the autism spectrum were given a fixed-period exclusion.   The following example shows how the decision to exclude a pupil can not only be difficult, but also unjustified in some cases:

“A pupil with autism is excluded for flapping his arms at a supply teacher. The supply teacher was alarmed by what she perceived to be threatening behaviour. The reason why the pupil flapped his arms was that the supply teacher had told him that he could not sit in his normal seat, because it was not appropriate for the activity that they were doing. This upset the pupil and caused him to flap his arms in an agitated fashion. The pupil always sat in the same seat in the classroom and this was recognised as a reasonable adjustment for his autism by his class teacher. Since the pupil’s reaction of flapping his arms was connected to his disability, the exclusion would be discrimination arising from disability. Because the school had not advised the supply teacher of the reasonable adjustment, the school would be unlikely to be able to justify the discrimination and therefore it would be unlawful”

But what can be done to reduce the risk of exclusion for pupils on the autism spectrum?

There is no one quick-fix set of strategies that schools can follow to reduce the number of school exclusions.  However, schools may like to consider the following tips when planning how best to support a pupil on the autism spectrum:

Know the individual

Every person on the autism spectrum is unique.  Therefore a one size fits all approach is inappropriate.  Investing time into trying to understand how an individual sees and experiences the world will benefit not only the individual, but also those who come into contact with them.  What causes them stress and anxiety? Discover the underlying causes of perceived disruptive behaviours and you can learn to diffuse them in future. Although you can’t change the world around an individual on the autism spectrum, you can forecast when something is likely to cause disturbance or distress to them, and adjust it or take avoiding action.

Working in partnership with the individual on the autism spectrum, parents, and other professionals can benefit all.

Parents are experts on their own child.   If schools recognise this it can help them to build a more complete picture of the individual, and ensure consistent support and approaches.

Address issues around stress and anxiety

Schools can do this by:

  • Identifying the triggers of stress and anxiety, and the resulting behaviour;
  • Recognising and accepting the strategies individuals may already use to manage their own stress and anxiety, (for example, special interests or self-stimulatory behaviour – ‘stimming’ – may help reduce anxiety);
  • Providing the individual with ways of identifying their own rising levels of stress and identifying strategies they can use to cope, for example a yellow or red card, or number rating system to notify the teacher that the child is experiencing rising anxiety;
  • Creating a sanctuary – a safe place – somewhere in the school that the individual can feel calm.  This could be a play tent; a quiet room;  a blanket; watching fish in an aquarium; being with a particular trusted member of staff.
  • Before trying to teach or reason with an individual who is on the edge (e.g. experiencing a meltdown), get them to their safe place to calm down.

The final part of this blog series will be posted on the 18th December and will include more information on reasonable adjustments, training your staff, and using the community resource ‘Network Autism’.

Find part two here.



I'm an ex-teacher with a real passion for education, politics and teaching. I am also a keen writer and blogger with strong opinions.

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