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The four key areas of difference

1: Interacting

  • Not realising group instructions apply to them.

  • Failing to notice or understand the unwritten social rules.
  • Acting appropriately in the social context

  • Difficulty with cooperative activities/interaction skills.

  • A lack of attention to or interest in people.

  • A lack of or poor awareness of other people’s feelings and their own.

  • Difficulties with ‘mind reading’ (theory of mind) may lead to misunderstandings.

  • Difficulties with imaginative and symbolic play.

Helpful hints for interaction

  • Direct teaching of social rules/skills in a variety of settings.

  • Explain social conventions in a way that is meaningful to the pupil.

  • Clear feedback about inappropriate social behaviour; specifically reward positive behaviour, and tell students what to do rather than what not to do.

  • Use of structured social activities.

  • ‘Put yourself in their shoes’.

2: Communication

  • May have a good command of language, and a fantastic vocabulary, but their use of spoken language may be more advanced than their understanding.

  • Understanding of idioms and metaphors.

  • May talk fluently, particularly on topics of personal interest, but not ‘share’ conversations.

  • May take longer to process spoken language.

  • May not understand/interpret the meaning of common gestures, facial expressions or tone of voice.

Helpful hints for communication

  • Simple concise language.

  • Allow time to process information.

  • Ask pupils to repeat instructions to ensure retention.

  • One instruction at a time.

  • Use visual clues and cues.

  • Check they have ‘the right end of the stick’.

3: Sensory and perception

  • Auditory (hearing)

  • Tactile (touch)

  • Vestibular (balance)

  • Gustatory (taste)

  • Vision (sight)

  • Olfactory (smell)

  • Proprioception (body awaweness)

  • Sensory overload

Helpful hints for sensory and perception

  • Give consideration to sensory needs.

  • To prevent the build up of anxiety or stress use ‘Time Out’ areas or named people.

  • Be flexible at times of increased sensory input (going into lunch first, sitting near the end of a row in assembly etc.).

  • Reduce the amount of time spent in areas of high sensory input.

4: Processing information

  • A need for routine / resistance to change.

  • May have all-consuming specific areas of interest.

  • Seeing the ‘bigger picture’ - implications for planning, problem-solving and incorporating new concepts.

Helpful hints for processing information

  • Keep routines as predictable as possible.

  • Keep changes to a minimum and prepare in advance.

  • Positive use of pupil’s interests.

  • Allow time to focus on areas of interest.


  • A range of skills and strengths.

  • Attention to detail, and often a good factual memory.

  • Ability to concentrate for long periods on one topic.

  • Can become experts in an area of interest.

  • Are often honest and open.

  • Can have fewer social inhibitions.

  • Often happy in their own company and in the company of adults.

  • Can have a strong and clear sense of justice.

  • Can have a different and refreshing way of seeing the world.


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