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Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) often have good abilities in logical reasoning and good abilities to acquire knowledge within fact-based subjects. Here you can read important advise for how to facilitate for students with ASD at school.

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Mental health in school is a unique textbook that was published in 2016 and which deals with how the school can meet students with various forms of mental difficulties and life challenges. In this article, we take a closer look at the chapter on students with autism.

The authors of the chapter on autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are Jon Fauskanger Bjåstad, Unni Sagstad and Gun Iversen. They write:

Children with autism spectrum disorders have difficulties with mutual social interaction and social communication, and they show limited interests that can often have a repetitive character.

They discuss autism spectrum disorders as a whole; which includes Asperger's syndrome, atypical autism, unspecified pervasive developmental disorder and childhood autism. At the same time emphasize:

Children with ASD can be very different from each other. Although they share some basic core difficulties, they vary in personality and functional level, and they have different challenges and strengths.

In the chapter, they provide in-depth information about what difficulties the child with autism typically has in the school context, and about which school measures can be helpful.


Strengths and weaknesses in children with autism

The authors write that children with ASD often have good abilities in logical reasoning and good abilities to acquire knowledge within fact-based subjects.

However, they also mention that the following challenges may be typical in children with ASD:


  1. Difficulties with verbal and nonverbal communication
  2. Pedantic language, delayed call responses, and an unusual voice melody (prosody)
  3. Misunderstand statements and irony due to tendency to interpret messages literally
  4. Often lack of self-help skills
  5. Special areas of interest that the child spends a lot of time on
  6. Atypical eye contact
  7. Sensitive to special stimuli (e.g. touch, sounds, taste, smells, light)
  8. Difficulty regulating emotions
  9. Attention problems
  10. Difficulty making friends
  11. More prone to bullying
  12. More often have mental health problems such as anxiety and ADHD 

Typical difficulties in a school context

Furthermore, Jon Fauskanger Bjåstad and the other authors talk about some difficulties that are typical in the school context for children with ASD:


  1. Interaction

    The student often becomes too passive or too dominant in the social interaction
    Has difficulty understanding unspoken rules, and adjusting to play

  2. Communication

    The student misunderstands words and expressions; takes things literally
    Have difficulty telling about your own thoughts and feelings
    Have difficulty putting into words what is in the way

  3. Independence in relation to school work

    The student often has difficulty understanding what a task is about and getting started
    Difficulty finishing on time and keeping up with the teaching

  4. Sphere of interest

    The student can be engrossed in their own interests within a topic
    Not very interested in what other students are involved in

  5. Vulnerability

    Sensory disturbances and impaired tolerance for sensory impressions
    Low threshold for stress reactions

  6. Symptoms of strain

    The student withdraws; refuses to go to school
    Physical reactions, headache, nausea
    Sadness, depression and anxiety
    Emotional outbursts
    Increased resistance to change
    Obsessive-compulsive reactions


The teacher can provide invaluable help to the student with ASD

A central part of the chapter deals with what help the teacher can give to a student with ASD. The authors write:

Teachers who work with children with autism spectrum disorders are recommended to adapt the learning situation so that it is structured, clear and predictable. The student needs a fixed framework and needs to be prepared for new situations.

The authors provide the following list of actions that the teacher can implement for the student with ASD:


  1. Make the learning situation clear and predictable by explaining the context, and adapt the teaching by concretizing and visualizing the material and tasks
  2. Help the student to get an overview of the day and tasks by making concrete and visual plans / recipes and procedures
  3. Have a high degree of structure, and make use of clarity / clear rules in planned and fixed frameworks
  4. Make things simple by being specific, clear and direct in your communication
  5. Teach the student to say when something is unclear
  6. Adapt workload to the student's prerequisites by giving extra time for assignments and tests when needed
  7. Facilitate flexible teaching solutions with the ability to switch between classrooms, small groups or one-to-one settings, for the best possible learning outcome
  8. Use the student's interests as motivation for new learning
  9. Prevent misunderstandings and conflicts in interaction with others. If conflicts with others arise, assume that a mutual misunderstanding is the basis
  10. Be the student's interpreter in interaction with other students and adults who do not know the student very well
  11. The student needs to learn social knowledge (eg social skills training), so facilitate explicit training and regular support conversations. Visual recipes, procedures and mutual agreements can be used to control social activity
  12. Teach the student to speak out when it becomes too much, and facilitate social protection when needed
  13. Take into account the student's perception difficulties and varying daily form in facilitation.
  14. Establish a regular collaboration with relatives



      • Bjåstad JF., Sagstad U. & Iversen G. (2016). Autism spectrum disorders. In E. Bru, EC Idsøe & K. Øverland (Eds.), Mental health in school, (pp.213-236). Oslo: Universitetsforlaget 

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