Everyday Support Strategies
By integrating a range of 'generalist' support strategies into everyday teaching practices, tertiary educators can create an optimal learning environment not only for students with 'invisible' learning difficulties but for all their students.
General strategies to support students with 'invisible' learning difficulties—and everyone else!
Click the boxes below for proactive behaviour management suggestions.
1. Verbal communication
- Use clear & unambiguous language. Literal interpretation of language is common in individuals with ASD. A student may literally 'hop to it' if asked, or ask 'what horses?' if they’ve been asked to hold them.
- Don't rely on the use of non-verbals (e.g. facial expressions and body gestures). Students with ASD often have difficulty with non-verbals; gestures like a frown of warning may have little or no impact on a student with ASD.
- Accompany verbal instructions with written instructions. Delivery of instructions in multiple formats caters to different learning styles and decreases the chance of misunderstandings.
- Check for understanding of any instructions given.
2. Course/subject delivery
- Make use of visual cues. Students with ASD tend to be more visual learners.
- Provide course/ subject guides with critical dates.
- Provide assessment details (e.g. deadlines, location/method for delivery, process for extensions etc.) and remind regularly during semester.
- Provide feedback that begins with the positive and moves on to facilitating the student identifying areas for improvement or increased understanding. Facilitation cues may include: "Let's look at what you did here.", "Can you explain to me...", or "Let’s see if we can improve on that".
- Provide timely feedback. Errors in understanding need to be corrected as soon as possible.
3. Setting expectations
- Set expectations for classroom behaviour in the first session (e.g. when and how to ask questions, whether students can record lectures, guidelines for working in groups etc.).
- Set clear expectations for any group work and provide mediation as necessary.
- Set concrete, realistic and factual goals to assist with motivation. For example: "Engineers frequently have to work in teams. If you want to become an engineer you must complete all parts of the course, even the group work."
- Consider providing an individual orientation to the prac or lab rooms for some students who may experience anxiety due to unfamiliar learning environments.
4. Managing expectations
- Provide as much advance notice as possible of any changes. If a change is inevitable (e.g. in timetable, room, lecturer, assessment content), give clear, specific information as to the change, with as much advance warning as possible.
- Some students may be highly sensitive to sounds, taste, smells and texture. Consider allowing relocation to a less sensitive environment (e.g. doing small group work outside of the classroom so other groups talking does not distract).
- Encourage students to seek additional assistance and provide written guidance as to providers (e.g. student services brochures, weblinks to support services, practice exams, Faculty student support officers/mentors etc.).
These strategies DO NOT require:
- Targeted delivery (good for one is indeed good for all)
- Specialist knowledge of disabilities
- Knowledge of a student's diagnosis or specific difficulties
- Additional teaching time
For more information on how tertiary staff can support students on the spectrum, head to the LaTrobe University page on supporting students with Autism.Learn more
Simple strategies for supporting tertiary students - including those on the Autism Spectrum.