Identifying the needs of individual pupils on the autism spectrum

This unit examines methods for assessing the needs of individuals on the autism spectrum. It looks at the importance of building a profile of a pupil and the various sources of information you can draw on in doing this.

In the unit, you will learn about:

  • Processes for building a profile of a pupil’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • The SCERTS assessment process.
  • Self-assessment by the pupil.
  • Pupil involvement in decision-making.

A day or week in the life

Recording a day- or week-long diary can be a good way of understanding a pupil's needs. By taking note of a pupil's responses to planned activities, you can identify crisis points in their timetable and spot moments when they seem confident and engaged.

Select one of the circles to learn more.

  1. Observation
  2. Scoring
  3. Comparison
  4. Adaptation
  5. Repetition
  6. Involving pupils


Observe a pupil carefully during lessons, activities and break time, and monitor their:

  • Level of engagement
  • Emotional wellbeing
  • Learning outcomes

Pay specific attention to how meaningful activities or tasks appear to be for the pupil.

« Return


Score activities or sessions out of 10 according to your observations. This score will be a good indication of how enjoyable or stressful the tasks were for the pupil and whether you felt they were valuable.

« Return


Compare scoring results to identify which elements of a pupil's activities they responded well to.

« Return


Make changes to the schedule according to how each activity was scored. Low scoring sessions can be shortened or removed, whilst high scoring sessions may be lengthened. It may also be useful to implement elements of the high scoring activities into low scoring activities to see if the pupil's engagement with an activity improves.

« Return


Changes to a schedule can be distressing for children with autism and a pupil may require repeated exposure to an activity before interest and enjoyment can develop. Short sessions that gradually increase in duration and frequency, coupled with frequent reward activities, can help acclimatise pupils to new tasks.

« Return

Involving pupils

Pupils should be encouraged to express their own opinions wherever possible. Whilst pupils may struggle to express views or choices, this does not mean they cannot; making informed decisions about their own education and support can often be a stimulating learning experience.

« Return

The importance of the pupil's views

To help pupils with autism take some control over their lives, they should be taught strategies to evaluate and report on their:

  • Likes and dislikes
  • Strengths, interests and difficulties
  • Performance on a task and the extent to which they enjoyed the activity
  • Short-term needs, for example decisions about what to wear, what to eat, and what to do
  • Long-term needs, for example employment or living arrangements

Select one of the six options to find out more about some of the methods for achieving this.

  1. Encouraging choice
  2. Respecting choices
  3. Ask the right questions
  4. Statements and checklists
  5. Ratings scale
  6. Non-verbal pupils and choice boards

Encouraging choice

Pupils need help to develop their ability to assess how they feel and express choices. Without this, they will depend on staff and parents to choose for them. This inevitably results in the pupil being offered activities or items that they do not want.

« Return

Respecting choices

Dismissing a pupil's choices can lead to the pupil feeling rejected and powerless. This can occur, for example, if other pupils and staff discount the importance of feelings an autistic pupil attaches to particular activities or objects.

« Return

Ask the right questions

Asking a pupil these three questions can help you gauge the effectiveness of an activity or provide insight into the reasons behind challenging behaviour:

  • What is the pupil's view of the situation?
  • What has been done to help the pupil's understanding of the situation?
  • What means and opportunities does the pupil have to express what they have experienced?
« Return

Statements and checklists

Using checklists and statements can help you find out more about a pupil's likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. For example:

  • A pupil could tick or mark relevant entries on a list of statements starting with 'I like'.
  • They could rate themselves against statements such as 'I am a good listener' using true/false or frequency answers like 'never/sometimes/often'.
  • Pupils can produce their own checklists, highlighting strengths, aspirations and future plans, using symbols, photos or words.
« Return

Ratings scale

Drawing 1 in the PDF for this unit provides an example of a ratings scale. This visual tool can enable a pupil to express how they feel they rate on the scale in different subjects and activities, using sticky notes prepared by the adult. Many pupils on the autism spectrum find visual systems such as this to be a logical and accessible approach.

« Return

Non-verbal pupils and choice boards

For non-verbal pupils and those who find verbal communication challenging, a visual alternative that does not require speaking can be used.

One such option is a choice board, which:

  • Presents all the options with objects, imagery or text, presented randomly rather than in straight lines.
  • Allows the pupil to select the item that represents their choice.

When a choice board is first introduced, it should ideally be kept fairly simple, with a limited number of options. This can be expanded upon and become more complex once the process has been established with pupils.

« Return

Self-assessment techniques

  • Checklists of statements
  • True/false statements
  • Frequency statements with an associated rating
  • Checklists of strengths or weaknesses
  • 'I would like to' lists can help with future plans
  • Rating scales

Rating scales

You can use rating scales like the example below to rate a pupil’s likes and dislikes. Drag and drop the subjects to arrange them from most favourite to least favourite. You can then encourage pupils to perform a similar task using post-it notes.

Drag an option here
Drag an option here
Drag an option here
Drag an option here
Drag an option here

Most favourite

Least favourite

Involving pupils with autism in wider decision-making

This interactive table runs through the dos and don'ts for getting pupils with autism involved in school councils and other decision-making groups. Select a heading to reveal further details.


1. Be clear

Make sure you clearly explain to pupils why you are getting them involved. Let them know what you want to achieve.

2. Give them enough information

Pupils should be given sufficient information to make sure they want to be involved and to help them prepare.

3. Be open-minded

Don’t make assumptions about a pupil’s outlook or capability. Pupils with autism can make a valuable contribution given the right support and time to prepare.

4. Create a safe environment

Make sure group members feel safe in sharing their experiences in your designated meeting place. Try to agree some ground rules with the group in the first session.


1. Be unrealistic

Never give false expectations of what the group will be doing or the changes they could make. When these things don’t happen, it can be particularly stressful for pupils with autism.

2. Rush things

Pupils with autism may need longer to process what is being discussed. Leave plenty of time for breaks and make sure you provide accessible, easy-to-understand information.

3. Use distracting venues

Be aware of background distractions like ticking clocks and humming fridges, bright lights or strong food smells. If you can, get somebody on the autism spectrum to help you pick the venue.

4. Forget to give feedback

Feedback is essential for making a pupil’s involvement meaningful. Let them know what will happen as a result of their participation, and if some of their suggestions are not used, make sure they understand why.