Receptive communication refers to the ability to understand verbal language, facial expression, body language and other non-verbal cues. Many students with autism have difficulty in processing verbal language and in understanding what others are communicating. Some students, however, will have a good understanding of the vocabulary used but may misunderstand the pitch and tone with which it is said or may miss important non-verbal cues. This therefore makes it much more difficult for students with autism to understand what is happening around them and to interact effectively with others, subsequently increasing feelings of anxiety.
How do receptive communication difficulties increase anxiety in the school environment?
Student cannot process verbal instructions, leading to anxiety because he/she has missed information and cannot recall the instructions
Use less language and try to be consistent in the language you use.
Student does not understand what is expected in an assigned task
Student completes work incorrectly as instructions were not understood or retained
Regularly check the student’s work to ensure he/she is progressing correctly. Provide student with a list of visual instructions to support task completion. Link to an example of a checklist.
Student is last to complete work or is unable to complete the work in time, due to processing difficulties. The pressure to complete work in time exacerbates anxiety and often the student may be brought back at lunchtime to complete the work or is expected to complete it for homework, further heightening feelings of stress.
Break the task into separate steps and reduce the number of steps this student is expected to complete. Do not expect the student to complete the work at lunchtime or as extra homework. Differentiate tasks.
Student has difficulty participating in group tasks as he/she cannot process what classmates are saying, especially against a background of others talking.
Identify a quiet area where this student’s group can work e.g. an empty classroom, a quiet office, an appropriate area in the corridor. Encourage students to use visual aides during groupwork e.g flipcharts or whiteboard.
Student does not record homework correctly, leading to errors and late submissions.
Provide homework task on a printed sheet and/or email the homework to the student.
Some students have a literal interpretation of language and therefore have difficulties in understanding sarcasm, humour and the emotional mood of others. This makes social interactions confusing and overwhelming.
Avoid the use of sarcasm in your own interactions with the student. Use social stories and comic strip conversations to explain the humour and sarcasm of classmates. Provide opportunities for the student to experience informal language e.g. roleplay or drama class.
Student may not look at you when you are speaking as facial expressions and body language can be overwhelming. The student therefore avoids eye contact to reduce the visual distraction which then improves the ability to process what is being said.
Do not insist on eye contact.
Student becomes anxious in playground due to poor understanding of how to play the games.
Teacher or assistant teaches the game in a quiet one-to-one setting using visual supports and then generalises to the playground with classmates. Visual instructions left in a visible area.