Difficulties in flexible thinking

Many students with autism develop rigid ways of thinking and lack flexibility in their thoughts and perceptions.

  • This affects their ability to problem solve.
  • It also means that they often find it difficult to cope with change and unpredictability, leading to a drive for routine and sameness.
  • Any change can be a huge source of anxiety for a student with autism.
  • Lack of flexible thinking also affects social interactions as some students with autism cannot understand things from another viewpoint or understand the feelings of others. In other words, they may not be able to put themselves in ‘someone else’s shoes’ which makes the social world confusing, and sometimes overwhelming.

How do difficulties in flexible thinking increase anxiety in the school environment?

 

Student becomes anxious when there is a substitute teacher.

SUGGESTED TIP

  • Inform the student of the change in teacher as soon as possible (preferably the previous day) and show a photo of the substitute teacher.

Student is unsure of what to expect in the school day.

SUGGESTED TIP

Student becomes anxious when there is a change to the timetable/schedule

SUGGESTED TIP

Student misunderstands the actions of others and may take things personally

SUGGESTED TIP

Student panics when an unexpected problem arises in an activity, and is unable to find a solution

SUGGESTED TIP

  • Work with the student to devise solutions to potential problems and then present these visually. Link to ‘Missing the bus’ example. Use of Help card; agree a system whereby the student can seek support discreetly when needed

Student is anxious in new settings and activities, and so refuses to go on school trip or participate in school play

SUGGESTED TIP

  • Prepare the student for new events using social stories and visual schedules. Take photographs of new settings and if possible, visit the new setting at a quiet time. Provide an incentive for visiting e.g experience something related to a particular interest or travel on a train. Link to section on social stories.