Reasonable Adjustments

Here are some possible reasonable adjustments that can be established in schools to make neurodivergent pupils’ school careers more equitable with their peers. All schools, employers, local authorities and shops or services like leisure centres have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people under the Equality Act, 2010.

This may mean:

  • Changing the way things are done
  • Changing a physical feature, or
  • Providing extra aids or services

Most of these adjustments have no additional costs associated with them, and can be transformative in school attendance.

There is no need for a formal diagnosis of neurodivergence, or an EHCP, to implement these changes. Waiting lists for formal diagnostic assessments are YEARS long in many areas of the UK.

Reasonable school adjustments

Pupils who need to should be able to go in at a different time to avoid crowds.

Crowded places, as well as the transition from home to school (and back again at the end of the day) can pose big barriers to autistic people.

The crowd is noisy which in itself is a large sensory trigger for many autistic people. The welcoming shouts of peers, the encouraging or chivying shouts of school staff, the sheer number of school pupils and also parents in the primary phase make the arrival crowd a space that can rapidly lead to dysregulation and over stimulation.

Many excitable crowds can also include jostling, and when this spills over, it can result in unwelcome and unexpected touch. Again from a sensory perspective, this can be very triggering for a pupil who will arrive in to the school in an anxious state and then have to start the day.

The school bell is loud and jolting. Its purpose is to interrupt. From a sensory perspective alone, it can leave autistic students with their nerves jangled.

Additionally, school bells also precede a transition to a new classroom, to assembly, to the end of the day (and more crowds).

There are very few workplaces which have such bells as anything other than an alert of danger. And the connection with a ‘warning system’ can leave youngsters in a perpetual state of fear.

It might be worth discussing as a school whether there are more up to date methods that can signal changes which might be applicable in ‘real life’, and therefore be beneficial to ALL students.

Sensory differences are a key consideration in the formal identification of autism; clothing and fabrics, as well as an ability to regulate temperature (often different in neurodivergent folk) and the dislike of perhaps having uncovered skin all contribute to feelings of safety and regulation for an autistic person.

Whilst appreciating the benefits of uniform for a sense of institutional identity, the experience of an individual autistic youngster including the benefits of being comfortable for learning should be accommodated.

This may apply to shoes, tights, trousers, shirts, ‘regulation’ coats, blazers, ties as well as PE kit.

Check attendance and behaviour policies to make sure they are inclusive of all pupils including those with SEND

If a student cannot attend school due to Emotionally Based School Avoidance, they should NOT be penalised for awards and attendance at ‘celebration’ events such as proms, discos, school trips.

Absences should be marked as authorised, and schools should have joined up records and collaborations with other services (including EWOs) to ensure that concerns about a young persons ability to attend are appropriate noted and supportive, joined up efforts are put in to place.

Additionally, where a student seeks to regulate themselves by fiddling (perhaps with BluTac), chewing (where their needs require it), not verbalising a response, wearing ear protectors, not making eye contact, behaviour policies should be adjusted to include that students’ needs. If a mistake is made by a cover teacher in ‘pinging’ a student for a breach of a behaviour policy, the school should immediately apologise and remove the negative comment/behaviour point.

Check policies on exclusions to make sure pupils are not being punished for behaviours relating to their SEND

Pupils with SEND are disproportionately impacted by policies which can lead to internal ‘inclusion’, and temporary or permanent exclusion.

Autistic Girls Network are developing a portfolio of training packages for schools which can be found HERE

These are two vital areas of difference which can impact not only on school attendance but also on engagement within lessons and communication about needs.

There are pages on our website which expand upon the importance of this understanding.


Difference not deficit

It is vital to remember that autism is a dynamic condition – when an autistic person feels safe and confident, they may use different communication styles compared to when they are just ‘coping’. They may also be more comfortable communicating with another neurodivergent person.

With this vital information in mind, it is also very important to understand how the autistic individual might wish to communicate, dependent on the circumstances or situation.

This may be verbal, non verbal, written, using AAC. And it may be different in a lesson, where information is being processed compared to in a ‘supportive meeting’ where a young person is being asked to explain their need or agree to an intervention on the spot.

Additionally, as neurodivergence is understood to be ‘heritable’ (inherited from parents), communication with the family or parents of a neurodivergent youngster should take these differences in to account

May require a dedicated teaching assistant who understands the child, preferably one who is autistic.

The way schools are funded has significant implications for the ability to access a TA for a young person.

By starting or supporting an EHCP application (in England), a school with funding challenges might be able to seek support for an autistic youngster who could benefit.

The TA should, of course, appropriately trained and be focused on the unique profile of the student they are supporting.

Give understanding support over change and transition and consider small as well as big transitions

Transitions within school are important to appreciate in the needs of a learner. Some may be more impactful than others, but a recognition that they might cause anxiety and anticipation of the impact can be very important.

The BIG transitions could be understood as:

  • Changing school phase / school including expected changes from primary to secondary
  • Returning to school after any break, including Monday as well as after a holiday
  • The start and end of the school day
  • Week 1 and Week 2 timetables
  • Exams / mock exams / exam conditions
  • Changing ‘sets’

The SMALLER transitions might include the following:

  • Moving between classrooms
  • Moving from one subject to another even if staying in the same room
  • A new ‘unexpected’ teacher / supply teacher
  • Starting a new topic area
  • A new student joining the class
  • A new seating plan

Play therapy or lego therapy may be appropriate (as long as it isn’t trying to modify autistic behaviour).

Speech and language therapy may be beneficial (as long as it isn’t trying to modify autistic behaviour).

Develop an active relationship with parents and communicate about the school day – not just academic or behavioural stuff.

Even at secondary, copy parents in on important communication.

Support students to be able to independently chunk and plan tasks in a way that works for them.

While not all autistic students think visually, a visual timetable adapted for how they process information may be helpful.

As always, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. All autistic children are different and will have variable strengths, interests and support needs.