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Nurturing Children With Special Needs: How to Adapt Your Teaching to Autism

To the tutors out there: How many of you have encountered “difficult” students?

The nature of your job allows you to meet all sorts of students. Among them, are the ‘worst’ kinds; They’re slow, cannot sit still, disruptive to the class, and feel impossible to handle.            

At this point, many tutors will feel helpless and resign themselves to the thought that, “Ah, this child, they’re not capable of learning,”                                                                                                                  

Such are some of the commonly heard frustrations that come with teaching students with autism. But despite the long-standing stigmas that autistic individuals have, there is actually a way to keep up with them!

A little more effort goes a long way, and if you’re up for the challenge as an educator, read on to find out how!

So What Do I Need to Know About Autism?

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For the uninformed, autism is a developmental disorder that affects how a person communicates and interacts with others. Patience, empathy and understanding is invaluable when it comes to communication with these students.

They’re not abnormal or dysfunctional, just different. Their excessive energy, nervousness, and struggle to engage with peers; all behaviours point towards signals for help. Your help.

That said, if you’re planning to or have been assigned to a student with autism, remember to be adaptable! Here are a few pointers that will help tackle some of the challenges autistic students face in your first few lessons!

1. Autism is a huge spectrum


Autism can come in many forms. Even if you’ve seen someone with autism, it can be hard to re-associate that understanding to your new student. 

Don’t take your previous experiences and form a bias. 

The affliction will affect everyone differently, and no one learning strategy can be the same for every person. Take the time to learn more about the student, and find out their individual strengths and weaknesses that you can use to plan your lessons.

2. Take It Slower, and Simpler


What is more common among autists, however, is the extra time they need to process language.

As a precaution and a rule of thumb, use simple language and short sentences. Try to break down your explanations into smaller pieces, and with fewer steps as much as possible. The fewer the choices, the easier decision-making is for an autistic kid.

Make sure that the student is following, before moving on. To be safe, give at least three full seconds after you’ve answered something. If you’re asking them a question, give them the same grace period and let them process that information properly the same way.

But say you’ve decided to repeat your point. 

Do not rephrase your words or urge them to hurry, because that will only jumble up the thoughts that they’ve already processed. Patience here is very much needed for effective teaching.

3. Proper Transitioning


Like traffic lights, autists require an “orange light” to adapt to change properly. Big surprises or changes to a routine can stunt the student and overwhelm them.

What they need here are clear instructions, or even a warning that you’re about to ‘transition’. Other ways to display that change also includes a visual schedule.

Be tolerant, as with the other points! They may not get it at first, so match their pace first.

4. Redirect Their Focus

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A child with autism can get stuck on one subject. It can already sound frustrating, envisioning how little you can do to distract them from thoughts that are non-conducive for study. This symptom can be said to be close, yet contrasting from ADHD.

Think of this in another way. That also means they are hyper-focused on one particular subject!

While they still remain as distractions, you can, at times, use that specific interest to motivate them in their school work.

For example, if they’re stuck on the topic of cars, you could ask them how long it takes for the car to drive from one point to another. There! That’s a maths problem solved.

5. Avoid Overloading Their Senses


Sensory issues are a distraction for many children with autism. The sights and sounds, even touch, are different from a patient of autism. Minimally, they are distractions to the lesson. But if overlooked, it can lead to overstimulation, pushing autists into a meltdown.

It’s similar to a temper tantrum, but definitely not the same. It’s uncontrollable, wild and scary for the student. 

Prevention is the best way to get around this. Design an environment free of stimulating factors. For example, avoid playing loud background music, if at all as it’s definitely not for them. 

Eliminate any traces of stress, and emphasise the importance that they shouldn’t feel pressured about anything throughout the lesson. If they’re picking up too much negative emotions, you can let them leave the classroom temporarily until they feel better.

Your voice can also play a part in their emotional states. Maintain a low and clear voice when engaging their attention. If it’s too loud, your voice can also agitate students with autism.

6. Communication With Caregivers


Seek advice from the parents in the case that he or she needs special attention and detail when communicating. Ask them, and they’d be very likely to open up to you about their child and their needs.

After all, parents and caregivers know these children best. To fully support the child in and out of school, you as the tutor should coordinate and share knowledge with them.

Things like what the child has said or learnt during the class, or notes on interventions that were tried-and-true home remedies can be integrated properly into your tuition lessons.

7. Promoting Structure and Routine


Consistency and predictability are crucial for children with autism. 

Establishing a structured daily routine and clearly defined expectations can help create a sense of stability and security. Incorporate visual schedules and clear instructions. All of these provide a framework that supports your student’s understanding and participation in various activities.



Adapting teaching methods to accommodate children with autism is an ongoing process that requires empathy, flexibility, and a commitment to understanding and meeting the diverse needs of each child. 

If you want to step up to the challenge and become dependable, foster a supportive environment and implement appropriate strategies that are well tailored for them.

Everyone deserves the chance to reach their full potential, even if they’re patients of an affliction that makes them different from others. Tutors are merely part of the cogs of our education system in Singapore, but know that you can make all the difference to a student’s long road in their education!

Remember, building a relationship with autistic children doesn’t happen overnight— it takes time, dedication, and patience!

Rum Tan

Rum Tan is the founder of SmileTutor and he believes that every child deserves a smile. Motivated by this belief and passion, he works hard day & night with his team to maintain the most trustworthy source of home tutors in Singapore. In his free time, he writes articles hoping to educate, enlighten, and empower parents, students, and tutors. You may try out his free home tutoring services via or by calling 6266 4475 directly today.