Alex Lowery speaks about autism

10 barriers autistic children face in infant school

Written on 29th Sep 2018 by Sylvia Lowery

Here are 10 barriers along with suggestions for reasonable adjustments. A number of children are being excluded form school and are missing out on their education. The Equality Act 2010 places responsibility on schools to make reasonable adjustments for learners who have a recognised long term disability.

Electric hand dryers – These machines make a lot of noise and can cause a sensory overload for autistic children and adults.

Suggested adjustment – If a child struggles with the noise of the hand dryer a pair of noise defenders could be provided or the child could be taken to wash their hands in a toilet that doesn’t have a hand dryer. Remember the noise of the hand dryer is triggered by other pupils using them. I have seen situations where the toilets are open and unisex and the drier can be heard in the learning area each time it is used. This is an issue for planners that should be considered as much as the need to ensure a building is accessible to wheelchair users.

Modern buildings with moveable walls – In my personal experience these buildings almost seem to magnify the noise from all the other classrooms. They are often aesthetically beautiful. However the additional shared noise can make this a very hostile environment for an autistic child.

Suggested adjustment – It is very important to provide a quiet space, even if this means soundproofing a room. I would also suggest that planners of new buildings take this into consideration before building.

Tidy up time – Yes it is good to teach children to tidy up, however there are a number of issues for the autistic child. Firstly children on the spectrum can feel very stressed if they don’t get time to finish a task. Often there is no warning given before the whole class is told to tidy away. Secondly 23 4 and 5  year old tidying up a variety of activities can be very noisy and confusing. This again can cause sensory overload.

Suggested adjustment – Create a visual timetable, I have seen a visual timetable created for the whole class, this is very good practise and helps all the learners. Give the child a warning that the activity is coming to an end. Again this could be done with the whole class with a visual timer maybe on the whiteboard. If the noise in the classroom is too much let the child tidy up a quiet area that is away from the other group.Take the child out of the situation before it is time to tidy up.

The use of a whistle to get the class’s attention – This is a very effective way of getting the class’s attention but it again could cause a sensory overload.

Suggested adjustment – One option is to teach the children to respond to a noiseless clue for example the waving of a flag.

Giving general praise – Terms like ‘good boy’ can cause some children a lot of stress. Alex used to have a meltdown in school each time the teacher said good boy. He hated general praise, he says he felt patronised.

Suggested adjustment –  Alex responded much better to phrases that were specific. For example ‘I like the way you are colouring in that dog’ or ‘You are sitting really still’.

Use of YouTube clips – This is a technique that a lot of teachers use for a variety of activities. It can be used to hello, or for the class to brush their teeth or for timed tidy up time. Alex used to find loud music terrifying and there was a certain video in school that would terrify him.

Suggested adjustment – Provide a warning, maybe move the child out of the classroom prior to playing the clip, if this is not possible provide ear defenders before the video is played. You could also work on slowly acclimatising the learner who struggles to the clip, maybe playing the sound quietly and building up tolerance.

Playtime – Young children like to play rough and this can be very frightening for a lot of children. For children on the autism spectrum this can be very threatening. Alex found the other children frightening when he was in school and he says that he didn’t want to go near them because of it.

Suggested adjustment – This is difficult because autistic children benefit from outdoor play and exercise. It would be a good idea to set up an area with swings, and large gym balls that can provide a relaxing environment that reduces stress. It is also important to be vigilant and not understand that the child on the autism spectrum may well need a lot more support than other children.

Healthy eating rules – Schools are keen to encourage healthy eating, this is a good          thing however it must be remembered that autistic children may have significant eating difficulties. Alex as a young child would only eat sausages and pizza and he would choke on this. Even today at age 24 Alex has cold sausages for his lunch every day at college.

Suggested adjustment – Don’t apply the same rules to these children, it puts pressure on the parents and can lead to the child not eating enough food. Work with the child’s parents to develop better eating habits and show sympathy and understanding.

Using glue, paints and playdough – This can cause an autistic child a lot of difficulties, even today Alex struggles with sticky sensations. He also hates the feel of playdough.

Suggested adjustment – It is a good idea to be aware of these sensory issues, pne option is to provide an alternative to playdough like pastercine. Another option for glue is to use a glue stick so that the child doesn’t have to touch the glue.



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Organisations Alex has worked with

  • Autism Cymru
  • Chester University
  • Glyndwr University
  • National Autistic Society
  • St John's Ambulance
  • Welsh Government

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