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Change, Social Skills AND Behaviour

A core feature of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is difficulty coping with change. Difficulty with understanding social and verbal indicators of change are also a feature of ASD. The student may perceive a “small” change or transition as significant where others do not. Examples of “small” changes a teacher might make are:

  • beginning a new unit of work,
  • updating a classroom display, or
  • seating the student at a different desk.

The anxiety and confusion arising from such change can strongly impact on a students’ ability to use appropriate language and behaviour.


Anxiety about transitions can manifest as:

  • angry outbursts,
  • shutting down and refusing to engage or participate,
  • absconding,
  • seeming impolite by bluntly asserting a need for routine,
  • attempting to control minor aspects of their environment, or
  • appearing to ignore direct instructions.


Viewing these behaviours as indicators of difficulty rather than deliberate attempts to be disruptive will assist teachers to understand and help their students. For more information on supporting students to behave appropriately, click here.


Many social situations are unstructured and involve small transitions. These transitions are often prompted by subtle social cues. For example, as students gather before an assembly they may notice the teacher’s body language indicating they are about to begin, and gravitate towards their seats and stop talking. The student with ASD may completely miss such social cues, which can result in confusion or anxiety.


Recess and lunchtimes are common sources of transitional disturbance for the student with ASD. These are the least structured times of the school day and in the average school involve a high level of verbal and social interaction. Click here for a range of strategies can be employed to support students during break times.