Autistic Spectrum Disorders - Understanding disabilities, impairments and specific learning difficulties - University of Derby

Autistic Spectrum Disorders

People with autistic spectrum disorders (including Asperger Syndrome) are likely to find it more difficult to read social cues and may have difficulties with communication, social relationships and with abstract ideas (or flexibility of thought).

When working with a student who has Asperger's Syndrome it is important to remember that they may take language in its most literal sense and comments such as "if you plagiarise, it will cost you an arm and a leg” may be seen as a true statement. It is therefore important to use clear language with students and check that you have been understood.

Everyone is unique; however, some people with Asperger's Syndrome may demonstrate the following characteristics:

  • May avoid eye contact
  • May find change difficult to manage and become anxious with sudden change
  • May prefer rigid routines
  • May find it difficult to organize timetables / time effectively
  • May have difficulty making friends
  • May find it difficult to work in groups during sessions due to difficulty forming social relationships; rigid thinking or inability to compromise.

Working with students who have an Autistic Spectrum Condition

When working with a student who has an Autistic Spectrum Condition it is important to consider the following:


  • Use clear, unambiguous language and try to avoid sarcasm, irony and metaphors
  • Learners may avoid eye contact but this does not mean they are not engaging with the learning.
  • Due to the difficulty found in relating to other people, one-to-one tutorials may be more appropriate.
  • Learners may find it difficult to adapt to change and should be notified in plenty of time if a room or timetable change occurs.

Practical sessions

  • The student might struggle with group work and may need support with this for example facilitation of the group work or working with a technician instead.


  • A separate room may be necessary to complete the exam (which the student may need to see prior to the exam to help reduce anxiety levels in relation to change)
  • A reader may be required to interpret any ambiguous language and ensure that the questions are understood.
  • Extra time may be required to complete an exam.
  • Consider whether an alternative method of assessment be used which will equally demonstrate competence.

Where can I find out more?

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31 January 2017

10am - 12pm

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