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Guest writer Lehanie Moller tells a bit about the qualities necessary to be a special needs teacher, and what a typical day looks like in an autism-only classroom. For any aspiring teachers out there, we hope this is helpful!

To be an SEN (special educational needs) teacher demands a different set of skills than a mainstream teacher.  To be an ASD (autism spectrum disorder) teacher demands an even more sophisticated skill set.

There is great joy in being an ASD teacher because you will get children with such a passion for a subject that it is pure joy to see them literally absorbing knowledge like a sponge.  ASD children are very happy-go-lucky children that feel very safe and secure in their rigid work – and the key here is rigid.

I have learned that routine is key to ASD children and, because I teach in lower Key stage, visual timetables and cues form an integral part of our daily routine.  The children in my class are between 6 and 7 years old and although they know their weekly timetable better than I do, they cope well with inevitable changes that sometimes do occur.  Some of these same changes might be more upsetting for older ASD children.

Another golden rule in my class is discipline.  SEN and ASD children can be disciplined in the same way as mainstream children and I have a generally well-behaved class.  We respect each other, we have ground rules, and we have a time-out corner and a reflection chair.  I also have individual reward charts and a class chart.  As an added incentive I have a Helper-of-the-Day as well as Star Person-of-the-Week.  My children also get homework once a week.

Our school is using the national curriculum and it is my responsibility to adapt the learning material to suit the needs of the children.  I tend to use the topic-based approach where I will pick an age appropriate story and then link Maths, Science, History, Geography PHSE, RE and ICT to the topic.

Assessment is often challenging because we don’t really have a set criteria that we can use – we are using P-scales and my school has gone a step further and broke the P-scales down into more achievable steps.  I still need to assess speaking and reading when I have non-verbal ASD children in my class, so I tend to use the Picture-exchange system or Makaton.  One of the children lacks the motivation to use it so it is very challenging and sometimes frustrating.  But at the same time, this student just started to sign one word so it is important to always persevere.

I am a very vibrant person at heart and I do have difficulty in keeping the decorations in my class to a minimum!  We are allowed to have displays of children’s work up in the class but it can’t be interactive since it will then constantly demand their attention.  My school has a blue colour scheme throughout since it seems to have calming effect on most children with ASD.

During playtime we promote positive play and play takes place on a very individual base.  It is hard to play team games.  Sharing is also a concept that is a struggle to understand so I always make sure that there is enough of the same thing for everyone to have a go at!

I think one of the key elements of being a good ASD teacher is to have bucket-loads of patience, love and understanding for these very unique children that can become so much more with the right amount of love, care and self belief.


Lehanie Moller studied in South-Africa for a Bachelor of Education degree (2005).  In that same year she decided to spread her wings and came to the UK where she started teaching in 2006.  It was a challenging journey, the culture difference as well as a new curriculum!  She worked for Newham Pupil Services where she had my first experience with SEN.  She worked there for 3 years and gave it up to gain more mainstream experience and then worked for a year in a very challenging Emotional and Behaviour-difficult school in South-East London.  She am now working in a Special Needs school that specialises in Autism and teaches a combined year 1 and 2 class.