Top 5 autism tips for professionals: Overcoming the barriers to inclusion in education

In this article Andy Cutting, the National Autistic Society's specialist exclusions adviser, gives his Top 5 Tips for overcoming the barriers to inclusion. This article aims to provide an easy read overview of practical tips for professionals when trying to reduce the risk of exclusion.

In the academic year 2011 to 2012  2,750 pupils on the autism spectrum were given a fixed period exclusion. That’s an 11% increase on the previous year. 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:

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Top 5 Tips

Overcoming the barriers to inclusion

1) Get to 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.  When are they happiest and most calm? What causes them stress and anxiety? Observe and listen. Consult with parents and colleagues. Discover the underlying causes of disruptive behaviour 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 disturb them and adjust it, or take avoiding action.

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

Parents are experts on their own child. Schools should recognise this and help to build a more complete picture of the individual and ensure consistent support and approaches towards behaviour between home and school. Professionals can also collaborate with colleagues from other schools and professionals from other fields, including specialist autism support (Autism Outreach Team). Schools may also have the opportunity to consult with adults on the autism spectrum who could advise how to make schools more autism friendly, and invite them to contribute to the school’s Accessibility Plan.

3)  Address issues around stress and anxiety

Schools can do this by:

•    identifying what triggers high levels of stress and anxiety and the resulting behaviour.
•    recognising the strategies individuals may already use to manage their own stress and anxiety, but not trying to eliminate them (special interests or self-stimulatory behaviour – ‘stimming’ - can reduce anxiety).
•    providing the individual with ways of identifying their own rising levels of stress and strategies to manage them.
•    creating a sanctuary – a safe place - somewhere in the school that the individual can feel calm.  Including; a play tent, a quiet room in the school etc...
•    at times of high anxiety allow the individual to access their safe place to calm down.

4)  Reasonable Adjustments need to be made to school policies and practices

Schools have a duty, under the Equality Act 2010, to make reasonable adjustments for children with disabilities. Schools need to take positive steps to ensure that disabled pupils, including those on the autism spectrum, can fully participate in all aspects of school life. A school’s behaviour policy should make allowance for behaviour which is a consequence of a pupil’s disability, rather than disobedience. A one size fits all policy, fixing a standard penalty for a particular action, is therefore both unfair and inappropriate.

“3.4 Most discrimination in schools is unintentional and may come about because of rigid policies or practices. Reviewing all practices and policies will help a school to ensure that it does not discriminate, as well as help it to comply with the public sector equality duty.1

5)  All school staff should have autism awareness training

To gain a better understanding of how to work with children on the autism spectrum, all school staff should have autism awareness training. Staff need to be alert to the warning signs or triggers that if left unheeded, could lead to potentially explosive situations. To ensure consistency of approach, it is important to emphasise that any autism awareness training should involve all staff. This includes support staff and lunchtime supervisors, who play a crucial role in overseeing unstructured parts of the school day which can be a source of difficulties.  

Additional resources

Further information, advice and support can be found in the ‘School Exclusions Group’ on Network Autism.

Schools might like to consider the online autism awareness training from Ask autism

Schools may also find the Autism Education Trust website useful for a number of education training resources.



[1] Equality and Human Rights Commission: Equality Act 2010 Technical Guidance for Schools