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A trilogy in 4 parts: what is ASD?

2nd December 2015

A trilogy in 4 parts: what is ASD?

What is Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorders are common in the UK population – some studies suggest that up to 1.1% of the UK population have it – that’s 1 in 100 people! So, chances are, you know someone, adult or child, who has ASD. At Fresh Start we have a number of students referred to us who have been diagnosed with ASD, and even more for whom the diagnosis is suspected.


Someone with ASD will have difficulties in several areas – with a nod to Douglas Adams who wrote a trilogy in 4 parts, the traditional ‘triad of impairment’ now has 4 key elements:

  • Social communication – people with ASD will struggle with language, jokes, sarcasm; comprehending tone of voice, facial expressions and gestures.
  • Social understanding – someone with ASD will struggle with social situations, making friends, holding conversations, playing, understanding the feelings of others and may have extraordinary depth of knowledge in certain areas whilst lacking basic knowledge in others.
  • Information processing – information tends to be processed more slowly, for example interpreting what is being said can take more time. Someone with ASD will tend to struggle with understanding concepts, generalising, predicting and transitions. Generally they cope well with predictability and struggle with change.
  • Sensory processing – although not a necessary part of a diagnosis, it is usually higher in those with ASD, therefore they can struggle with touch, sounds, too much visual information, balance, and any other sensory input.

ASD is a spectrum, and those on it will have differing levels of impairment in these areas and their needs will differ wildly. In common with the general population, their intelligence and ability to learn will also vary widely.

So how can we best support students who may have ASD? Well the good news is that what helps someone with ASD is also good practice for all students:

  • Provide a timetable – and stick to it! Visual input can be easier to process for someone with ASD, so consider using a visual timetable system like PECS (PECS also have other useful visual resources- www.pecs-unitedkingdom.com).
  • Have a predictable routine.
  • Warn of changes in advance and support the potential emotional distress by discussing what the student is feeling – naming the emotions for them if necessary – and role-playing the new situation to aid familiarity.
  • Provide opportunities to learn practically – doing is better than listening to explanations.
  • Say what you mean! An ASD student won’t understand nuance, sarcasm, jokes, etc – they will take what you mean literally so take care with what you say and how you say it.
  • Repeat instructions after 6 seconds – this gives processing time and enables the student to clarify what was said and what was meant – but use the same words each time.
  • Be aware that someone with ASD may be easily distracted or over-stimulated by noise, sight, touch, etc. Try to keep the environment distraction-free.
  • Establish if they like touch or not – some people with ASD can be extremely touch-averse, or it may give them reassurance.
  • Establish a routine for getting their attention during a task – calling their name, laying a card on the desk next to them, touching their arm – something that provides a warning that you need them to re-focus themselves on you now.
  • Provide support in social situations – again, role-playing and practice can help. Learning in one context may not be easily transferred to another, and so you can’t expect a student who has learnt to take turns in the classroom to do so in a game outside.

These are just a few basic tips to get started with. Every person with ASD is like every other person – unique and special, so our approach with each individual will always be unique and special.


For more information about ASD try these sites: