All young people are unique. In order to support them effectively, it is important to get to know them.
For autistic individuals there are some key areas that are particularly important to understand in relation to an individual’s strengths and support needs.
Diversity of Autism
Students on the spectrum may have a scattered profile of strengths and support needs. They may behave and learn very differently in different environments. What we may see young people doing at home may be different to what they do at school.
Take a look at this Diversity Wheel graphic. Where you might position someone on the Diversity Wheel will change throughout the day, depending on who they are with and what environment they are in.
The outside of the circle indicates the individual may need less support in that area.
The middle of the circle indicates the individual may need more support in that area
This is the planning tool that corresponds to the diversity wheel. We developed this tool to help summarise all relevant information about an individual and share it with those that need it. This planning tool will capture the characteristics of your young person, the impacts of these characteristics, as well as strategies and adjustments. The Planning Tool may guide priority areas for support at school and home.
It is important that this tool also captures strengths of the individual. The Planning Tool can be completed by a team of people including family members and the individual themselves.
The observations and examples column is designed for you to record exactly what you see or hear the child doing, for example - how do they communicate? How do they interact with family and peers? How do they best learn new things?
The helpful and unhelpful impacts column is where you consider and records the impacts of those observations on the child themselves or those around them.
The strategies and adjustments column records what might be in place to support the student and what may help in the future.
Our team recently delivered an updated 2023 webinar on using the Planning Tool called 'Back to School with the Planning Tool'.
Click on the video to view the recording.
To most effectively use the Planning Tool, it helps to understand as much about autism as possible to best to get to know your young person. Our website is filled with further resources and webinar sessions for you to access on the topics that relate to the different areas of the Planning Tool. You can find these on our Resources page.
Further down this page we will explore these different areas of the Planning Tool and link to specific resource pages to support your understanding of these areas.
Strengths and Interests
Teaching students through their strengths and interests can help their self-esteem and well being. In addition, it can provide the learner with a feeling of being valued and respected and therefore increase the likelihood of being motivated to engage in learning opportunities. Research tells us that young people on the spectrum are often less able to connect with learning if they are not interested in it.
Connections to Culture and Community
Connections to community and culture can significantly support well being and quality of life. Different people will have a different number of connections to people, places and cultural contexts.
Connecting with culture can also have a positive impact on your sense of belonging and identity. Being disconnected from your cultural heritage can lead young people to question who they really are and where they belong.
Social and Communication Skills
Individuals on the spectrum will have varying strengths and support needs in their use of communication and social skills. These strengths and support needs will vary between individuals over time and may depend on the context they are in. Young people on the autism spectrum can have different social preferences, and it is important that these preferences are respected.
There are eight senses – touch, vision, gustatory, hearing, smell, proprioception, vestibular and interoception. Every individual has their own sensory preferences that will vary over time and change according to the context they are in.
For example, the degree to which a young person responds to sensory input at home may be significantly different to sensory responses at school.
Links: Sensory webinar resources
Executive functions and learning styles
Everyone learns differently. Understanding your young person’s learning style and their executive functioning skills is often the most powerful consideration for planning their learning. Does your young person like hands on learning, do they have a strong memory or are very detail focused? Planning, task initiation, organisation - these are all parts of executive functioning.
Self Care and Independence Skills
Self-care activities can include dressing, cleaning teeth, eating, showering etc. Many of these activities require a range of different skills, including fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, sensory processing and executive functions. The characteristics of autism may impact on someone's ability to engage in self care independently and they may need support to do so.
Some people on the autism spectrum may require some self care skills to be explicitly taught. However, it is important for young people to have choice and control over their own bodies.