Autism Spectrum Disorder
Implications for Learning

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People with ASD often face great challenges in a postsecondary educational environment. People who have these conditions have a strong need for predictability, marked by rigidity in thought, speech, and behaviour, and may become totally overwhelmed and respond angrily if expectations are changed or if assignments are altered. Research by Fleischer (2012) suggests that instructors should be as clear as possible when communicating expectations, and should try to stick to the syllabus and to other agreed-upon arrangements as much as possible so as to lessen chances of students becoming upset and overwhelmed.

Van Hees, Moyson, and Roeyers (2014) observed that socialization presents immense challenges for people with ASD. Interpersonal relations are often an area of marked impairment for people who have ASD. People with ASD often have difficulty reading social cues, understanding sarcasm, or negotiating differences of perspective. Instructors should be cautious when requiring group work, as a student who has ASD may have great difficulty participating in such activities.

Common Accommodations

The following accommodations and classroom adaptations are a list of suggested accommodations, but are not comprehensive or exhaustive, nor will all accommodations listed be necessary in all cases. Other accommodations may be implemented based on the individual needs of each student as recommended by your campus Disability Services Office or other professionals.

Common Characteristics of a Student with Autism Spectrum Disorder Commonly Suggested Accommodations/Classroom Adaptations
Have marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation. Limit or eliminate group work and/or oral presentations.
Have difficulty making friends; lack a spontaneous desire to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with others. Lack empathy for the feelings of others. Highly structure small group interactions, any “getting to know you” exercises, etc. Limit or eliminate group work.
Use language in a stereotyped and repetitive manner. Limit oral presentation requirements.
Have difficulty understanding abstract concepts, jokes, sarcasm, nonverbal language or expressions. Difficulty understanding metaphors and words with double meanings. Provide extremely clear, written instructions. Use concrete language. Do not banter or make sarcastic jokes, as they will likely be taken literally.
Experience marked impairment in multiple nonverbal behaviours (e.g., visual contact, facial expression, body position, and gestures intended to initiate or adjust interaction). Ensure that marking rubrics for oral presentations do not include expectation of eye contact, professional body language, poise, etc. Consider alternative assignments to oral presentations.
Have a preoccupation with one or several restricted and stereotyped interests that are abnormal in terms of intensity or subject matter. Allow for choice in assignments. Rather than assigning topics, allow students to pursue topics in their area of interest.
Have a rigid insistence on performing some non-functional portions of routines or rituals in an identical manner. Allow for student self-determination in how assignments get completed.
Slow at writing (difficulty with penmanship – fine motor skills). Allow for extra time for written assignments or exams.
Have a persistent preoccupation with parts of a project. Allow students to focus on parts of a project rather than the entire cumulative product.
Exhibiting behaviors that are possibly disruptive or otherwise difficult to manage. Contact your institution’s disabilities services office for guidance as to how to manage these behaviors.