What is Being Done to Improve the Quality of Education For Students With Autism?


Susan Q Yin via Unsplash

It’s sometimes hard to know if you're doing things right in Education, but students with disabilities like Autism have been notoriously left behind. With CDC figures suggesting 1 in 59 children in 2014 rising from 1 in 69 in 2010 have ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) what accommodations or lack thereof autistic students have are affecting more and more people? 

Official Accommodations

There is an expanding world of supports available to students in primary, secondary and tertiary education through a whole selection of classroom adaptations to account for different students' needs outside of speciality schools.

Teachers allowing communication devices such as an AAC for students who have non-verbal episodes can entirely change a person’s ability to engage in the classes they are taking. Strict and clear schedules, and allowing time for students to process unavoidable changes can help with personal regulation and assist in avoiding meltdowns. Embracing autistic traits to enhance learning is also a fantastic tool, allowing students to adapt work towards a special interest of theirs can help with engagement and stress if they are having issues focusing on current work.

A lot of what’s being done isn’t particularly new but is being done in different ways with an understanding of the current research and how best to apply these systems, specifically having empathy for students as a baseline. In the best cases, autistic individuals who have gone through the system are consulted on what worked and what didn’t.

Helping Where We Can

Of course to access many of these allowances students are required to have an NDIS autism assessment, which is its own hurdle and not a simple process that forms its own issues when students waiting for an official diagnosis have to also wait for the help they need. This is where an almost reverse of the cut curb effect can help. 

The cut curb effect is when designing for accessibility winds up helping the whole community, named for how the ramp slope on sidewalks was initially added for those with wheelchairs, but it was quickly found that it also helped cyclists, the elderly and more. In schools, the wide adoption of things like fidget toys, understanding of a wide array of dietary requirements and focus on teaching healthy emotional regulation help autistic students as much as it does the general school population. 

This isn’t quite a reverse of the cut-curb effect because sometimes the policies were put in place to account for neurodivergent students though not always. Variety in food options is important for allergies and religious reasons, but having those options can also make it easier for autistic students to find food that won’t exacerbate their sensory processing issues.

And these school-wide policies go across all levels of education. Students raised in classrooms where fidget toys were commonplace don’t bat an eye at them being used in university lectures. For those seeing them for the first time in university, it can be incredibly relieving to finally have their coping strategies not made a big deal of by having to go through endless paperwork.

Other Opportunities 

It helps that there has been an improvement in the social understanding of autism though progress is slow. The general movement towards taking mental health seriously means schools are under pressure to take accountability for their effect on their student's physical and mental well-being, and with online channels enabling more autistic individuals to speak up both on their own and collectively autistic people are finally getting a say in how they are treated.

Online forums with other autistic students are a huge resource that has suddenly appeared for current pupils. Usually hosted on easily accessible social platforms like TikTok and youtube. This is particularly helpful for adult students who are often overlooked in professional resources which finally have somewhere to turn to for advice to help them make the best of their education.

Like with any disability, ASD affects how you interact with the world, and when it comes to something as important as education, it's integral that those on every level from governmental policymakers to the students themselves take those differences into consideration if we want the best outcomes for our students. We’re still learning about Autism but we need to keep applying those new findings to the classroom if we want to change our schools from a place where a few excel to a place where everyone learns everything they can.


Chris Pritchard is a 23-year-old freelance writer working in Melbourne, they write on a variety of topics and pursue work as a visual artist in their free time away from writing.