Top 5 autism tips for professionals: helping autistic children access tests in mainstream primary schools

Rebecca Wood is a Research Fellow in the Department of Disability, Inclusion and Special Needs at the University of Birmingham. She is Project Manager of the Transform Autism Education project. Here she provides her top 5 autism tips for helping autistic children access tests in mainstream schools.

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Author: Rebecca Wood

Top 5 tips

Helping autistic children access tests in mainstream primary schools

School staff should not assume that children are stressed by doing tests and that those with special educational needs and disabilities, including autism, are particularly susceptible to this sort of strain. It’s important to respond to all children as individuals and not to limit the participation and inclusion of autistic children in this important aspect of school life, regardless of what your personal view might be of the overall value of tests at the primary stage. The longer term outcomes of autistic individuals are poor, and it might be the case that enabling them to access tests at a young age will help them later on in their educational and working lives. 

These are my five top tips to help autistic children access tests in mainstream primary schools:

1.  Each child is an individual 

There is no ‘one size fits all’ in terms of enabling autistic children to access tests. For example, some children might benefit greatly from being allowed to take the test in a separate room, while others would dislike this and prefer to be with their classmates.

2.  Teacher Assessments

School staff should use the flexibility that this allows and ensure that autistic children are given the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding in a way which is specific to them. This might include: 

  • non-verbal as well as verbal forms of communication
  • alternative media
  • different formats (fonts, colours, size of print)
  • greater use of technology
  • extra breaks or additional processing/thinking time and having stim toys or music (if they are not a distraction). 

The language used in tests should be concise, unambiguous and literal. Above all, teacher assessments should be structured around the child’s interests if possible.

3.  Classroom support v. support during tests

If a child has a certain level of support during class time, it is important that this is not diminished in a test situation. It is not ‘cheating’ to give a child the help they might be entitled to, and essential that the child’s support operates in a dependable manner. It will only benefit children to be given practice in how tests are run for them, therefore consistency between classwork and tests is essential.

4.  Changes

Avoid unnecessary changes such as classroom layout, where autistic children are seated, or placing items on the desk which might distract. 

5.  Access Arrangements

There is a plethora of access arrangements for Key Stage 2 tests, many of which could benefit autistic children. Staff need to ensure they are fully familiar with what they are, and the rules surrounding their use and implementation, keeping a keen eye on dates and deadlines for applications or submission of information to the Standards and Testing Agency. Any access arrangements should reflect ‘normal classroom practice’ and so it is important that the children are fully familiar with them as part of their usual classroom experience. 

Finally, there is a key point school staff should bear in mind: how can adaptations and supports implemented for autistic children benefit all those in the class? For example, wouldn’t all children benefit from a low-arousal environment? Or from having a favourite item to reduce anxiety? This should be a basic consideration in order to reduce any potential stigmatisation of autistic children who, after all, are trying to fit in with a system which simply was not designed for them. 

Further reading/information

Guidance from the department for Education on access arrangements at Key Stage 2

Date added: 20 September 2016