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Information on Autism Spectrum Disorder for Instructors

A guide with information to assist course instructors to effectively support students with ASD

Information on ASD for Post-Secondary Instructors

Representations of the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) vary widely with each individual. ASD is aptly named due to this spectrum of variability (Baker, 2006). While there are common characteristics, autism is neurodevelopmental in nature, and each individual student with ASD will present with a unique combination of characteristics and will bring richness to the post secondary environment. Students with ASD will benefit from repetition, redirection, and strategic support. What works for one student may or may not work the same way for others. The National Autistic Society in the UK has developed a short, 4 minute video that you may find helpful in understanding ASD. Amazing Things Happen - by Alexander Amelines.

General Tips for Supporting Students on the Spectrum:

  • Developing a good understanding of the common issues experienced by individuals with ASD will be helpful to you in building your generic toolbox of best support practices
  • Offering students the opportunity to have a confidential, one-on-one meeting to discuss what has worked best in their experience will help you to fine-tune your teaching approach
  • Providing clear guidelines and outlining expectations in all aspects of student responsibilities (classroom expectations, assignment criteria, communication requirements, support requests)
  • Being clear with students on what you can and cannot do will help them manage their expectations and prevent anxiety or misunderstanding

Examples of some strengths and challenges that one might see are provided below:

Strengths
  • Detail-oriented
  • Skilled in particular areas
  • Logical in thought process and decision making
  • Independent
  • Interested in social justice
  • Visual in thinking
  • Above-average visual spatial skills
  • Strong rote memory
  • Strong at communicating verbally
  • Direct in communication
  • Average to above-average intelligence
  • Passionate about particular topics or ideas
  • Hard working and diligent
  • Skilled in solving problems creatively
Challenges
  • Limited perception of how others think and feel
  • Difficulty understanding social cues and unstated rules of conversations or the “hidden curriculum" of implied expectations from instructors
  • Misunderstanding of social conventions
  • Literal thinking – difficulty understanding abstract concepts and vague instructions
  • Difficulty dealing with change or switching tasks (need for routines).
  • Difficulty with visual-spatial processing
  • Sensory sensitivity (e.g., sensitivity to fluorescent lights, sounds, or smells)
  • Differences in values
  • Limited comfort in asking for assistance when needed
  • Coexisting conditions (learning disabilities, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, obsessive compulsive disorder)