Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). A guide for parents.

Last Updated: 14 Apr 24
Young boy sitting at a desk doing his schoolwork and being supported by a tutor.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Exploring the Benefits of 1:1 Tuition

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder see, hear and feel the world differently. If school sometimes feels overwhelming, can 1:1 tuition help?

Many children thrive in mainstream education. Most will experience a learning difficulty at some point in their lives. However, children with ASD will have some degree of both general and individual-specific learning requirements that need to be addressed to help them access learning at all.

The Overwhelming Classroom

These children may like school but find the buzz and sensory atmosphere of the classroom overwhelming. To different degrees, they may experience specific learning difficulties like processing language, taking language literally, or interpreting tone of voice, jokes, and sarcasm. This can lead to communication issues between themselves, the teacher, and other students. Feeling confused can hinder how a child perceives instructions and may prevent them from keeping on task.

Children need different levels of help. Many children with ASD are of average and above-average intelligence and do not have other learning disabilities in the same way that many autistic children may have. For example, they have fewer problems with speech. Often it is diagnosed later than autism, perhaps as late as 9 or 10 years old, which makes it even more important that support is given before commencing secondary school.

However, the classroom can be hard to navigate for all these children. Events happen quickly: several instructions are given at once and forgotten or misunderstood; a change of direction in a lesson is confusing; an abstract concept is hard to grasp. Simple things, like facial expression, can be misinterpreted in a way that makes a child anxious – or lead them to make a mistake. It can also lead to frustration and anger – which runs the risk of exclusion. Even with extra classroom support, the nuances of a learning or social situation can be missed.

Early Years Evidence

A study at the University of Southampton that involved intensive one-to-one tutoring of children with autism at the toddler stage suggested that there could be dramatic increases in IQ levels in the very young, with noted improvements in social education and motor skills. Although many children receive support in mainstream education, intensive intervention is unlikely. However, parents who know their child is having trouble accessing lessons increasingly ask schools for extra help. If this help is not forthcoming or consistent in provision or quality, they are turning to the many agencies that provide tuition away from the school environment altogether.

Exploring Home Tuition for ASD

Have you felt home tutoring for your child’s ASD could be educationally beneficial? Then, you are not alone. Gillian Dixon, the founder of Teachers To Your Home, has recently reported an increasing volume of enquiries about tutoring children with SEN – with at least ten weekly enquiries specifically focusing on support for ASD.

What reasons are parents giving for requesting advice on 1:1 tuition? Just like children’s needs, these vary. But there are common threads. These include believing that class sizes are too large to cater to their child’s individual needs and that there is a lack of specialist support within the school, or indeed an absence of any extra support that might help their child learn in a specific way. In addition, they refer to their child as lacking focus, or they aren’t taking on new learning skills.

Unfortunately, whilst it is common for children to have a very strong and consuming passion or hobby, the curriculum cannot always allow them to use this to motivate their general learning. This can lead to decreasing enthusiasm in tackling subjects that don’t naturally interest them, even if the learning skill itself could still be taught.

What Do Parents Want to Achieve?

A clear assessment of a child's current level is a common request from parents. Then, if any gaps in early learning are identified, they would like a tutor to seek strategies that will fill those gaps - whilst maintaining encouragement and teaching concrete strategies that they can take back into the classroom.

Parents describe feeling lost in a system. They want to act before it’s too late and do what they feel is the best for their child. They are also seeking reassurance, advice and support.

Mental Wellbeing

You want your child to learn, but you also want them to be happy, relaxed, and successful. Parents of children with autism and Asperger’s recognise this difficult balance. They may describe a child as ‘lost’ within a busy class environment, even when the teacher does their best to accommodate them. Unfortunately, this can equate to an unhappy child. And unhappy children are unlikely to learn effectively with or without learning difficulties. Whilst not a magic wand, 1:1 tuition can help inject some confidence and enthusiasm back, which can have a positive knock-on effect socially and mentally, not only with learning.

When to Start?

Students across all key stages can benefit, but most students matched with tutors at Teachers To Your Home are within KS2, KS3 or KS4. Sometimes students need extra focus as exams approach – a potentially extra stressful time when gaps in learning are discovered and fast learning strategies are required. Bespoke one-to-one sessions geared for individual students' needs can bring the clarity and confidence needed for success.

A Family Experience

Natalie's daughter is diagnosed with High Functioning Autism plus ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder). She has been receiving tuition for over a year. Now ten years old, she recently took the 11+ exam in a supported and calm environment and passed with high marks.

Overall, Natalie feels that having 1:1 tuition has been very helpful. Her child benefits from receiving full support and encouragement that wouldn’t happen in a class of 30. There is the flexibility to explore her interest in animals and history. Although Natalie does not sit in on sessions, she is close by and experiences first-hand what she can and can’t do when under pressure (for example, if she avoids difficulties and how she copes), all of which adds to her understanding of her daughter’s conditions and what learning atmosphere and strategies help her to learn most effectively.

She has been pleased to witness her daughter’s enjoyment when fully submerged in her learning, which can have a knock-on effect on self-esteem and confidence. “It’s great to see that in a child, even though it's a small amount of time,” she says. “You can then discuss with them what they did and didn’t enjoy – and how they can improve and make better decisions themselves, and how to ask for help next time.”

Just because a child is not at school does not guarantee that things will always work smoothly. Natalie describes the home environment as a two-edged sword. “If my child has had a difficult morning, it can have a knock-on effect on the lesson,” she says. “However, being at home, my child is more relaxed and familiar with her surroundings than at school. She can easily take herself off to calm down and return refreshed and ready to learn.”

Choosing a Tutor

Tutors aren’t perfect. Just like your child, they are individuals, and a tutor who helps one child might not fit the needs of another. Nor is it simply a matter of qualifications. It is not always about the specific SEN qualifications of a tutor, but the quality of their experience and the sense that they ‘fit’ with a particular family. Success will depend on the quality and relevant experience of the tutor and their relationship with the family and the child. It is also often beneficial for a tutor to liaise directly with the child's school and teacher.

The length of a session also depends on the child and the extent of their needs, and that sometimes little and often works best—for example, two sessions of 30 or 40 minutes rather than an hour’s block.

Tutoring is most effective if as much information as possible can be given from the start and each party is open and honest. Ask the tutor how they want you to intervene, if necessary, and explore some strategies they might have. Before beginning, an open and honest conversation about what they will likely encounter is most important. Communication and a sense of working together can make a difference – and ensure your child gets the most from their tutoring session.

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