Pedagogical practice will be based around Bruner’s theory of how children learn (Bruner, J. (1960). The Process of Education; and Bruner, J. (1983). Child’s Talk: Learning to Use Language). This is based on the three principles enshrined in his theory:
- Instruction must be concerned with the experiences and contexts that make the student willing and able to learn (readiness).
- Instruction must be structured so that it can be easily grasped by the student (spiral organization).
- Instruction should be designed to facilitate extrapolation and or fill in the gaps (going beyond the information given).
All pupils with autism will be delayed in the key area of communication and that deficit will need to be addressed before they can access further learning.
The least cognitively able ASC pupils will be working at a concrete level of learning, using objects to feel and use to bring their learning to life. They cannot understand the implicit use of objects, understand their use out of context, or use the objects to develop abstract learning thoughts. They will want to explore the objects with their hands or mouth to get an understanding of how the objects feel and can be used in real situations. These pupils will also be using objects of reference to give them cues for lesson change over and activities to follow or try. e.g. a tennis ball may indicate that a PE lesson is starting, or a spoon may indicate that a cookery lesson is starting.
For those pupils who are slightly more cognitively advanced but still working well below age related expectations and in the pre key stage curriculum they will be using pictorial approaches to their learning. They may have a visual time table to indicate what lessons are happening. They may also respond well to staff using flash cards to demonstrate or request key actions. e.g. finish, sit, thank you, work, etc. For these pupils they may require the use of Picture Exchange Systems (PECs) and communication aids too. They will still enjoy the use of experiential approaches but their learning is not solely reliant on this mode of learning. These pupils require staff to model and support them but they may be able to demonstrate some levels of independence in their learning over time. Some of these pupil may well be able to use teach boxes for independent activities and reward times.
As cognitive ability develops and increases the more able pupils in the schools are able to move from pictorial towards abstract approaches to their learning. The more able learners may well still feel comfortable with a symbol support system but have increased confidence to work without this and may only use them as prompts.
Higher functioning ASC pupils will be more able to access learning independently over time and they can over time be given responsibilities to develop skills for life after education. They may well have a clearer aspiration for work or life after school and be more motivated to find out about things around them and in their social sphere. They are often more likely to access the wider learning areas of the school such as the library facilities and careers advice materials independently.
For those pupils who make academic progress and need to change the learning environment and access more independent learning opportunities and a curriculum delivered at a higher level there will be opportunities to move classes to ensure that these pupils are working within a group well matched to their needs.