How can a school bring about change to build capacity?

Within the evolving school environment where striving to build capacity is a whole school tenet, we must be appreciative of the challenges faced.

They must become more flexible and adaptable, better able to deal with increasing complexity and ambiguity, more proactive than reactive and reoriented towards different objectives” (ibid.) Smylie (2010)

Several Key Areas have been Identified as being of Importance

  • Identifying a team to oversee the process- team members should consist of principals, teachers, school psychologists, health professionals etc. The instructional leadership of the principal is a critical factor in the success of a school’s development and the overall effectiveness of the school. (Lunenburg, 2010) The primary responsibility of the principal is to promote the learning and success of all students, therefore proving a supportive and stimulatory environment for those with autism too. Each professional should be responsible for the behavioural, vocational and educational programme of the child and/or young person with autism.
  • Ongoing training and coaching of educators is a critical component of developing capacity.
  • Measures of Progress- it is the progress of the child and young person that will determine the success of a capacity building systems change within the school setting.

Supportive environments are important in nurturing the development and learning experience of the child or young person with autism.

“If the environment is right, the child’s functional communication skills will flow”

(Gina Davies, Specialist Speech and Language Therapist.)

Where possible, ensuring that the environment (i.e. home, school and wider environments) for the individual with an autism should provide:


Best Practice Resource

Teenage Resource

  • Establish a predictable environment, taking care to avoid unexpected changes as much as possible.
  • Notify the student of changes in advance: Preparation, Preparation Preparation
  • Teach how to deal with change, the principles of transitions
  • Teach the relevance of transitions, why we need to have change
  • Transitioning appropriately is a behaviour and a skill. Like other behaviours, transitioning needs to be reinforced, reinforcement will only be effective if it is individually tailored. Designing and selecting the necessary reinforcement is in itself an art. If the child does not acquire the skill, Crissey (2012) says
    “will greatly limit the child’s ability to integrate and take full advantage of the educational and leisure opportunities. Transition issues need to be addressed head-on in the child’s early years.”
  • Establish specific tasks and rules for various areas of the room.

Meaningful communication

  1. Simplify language and incorporate visuals showing individual steps
  2. Avoid irony and sarcasm
  3. Encourage and reinforce all attempts at communication
  4. Use concrete, direct and explicit instructions, supported by images
  5. Allow time for the child to answer and then check whether the child has understood, use his or her name rather than relying on, “Does everybody understand?”

Top Ten Tips for Supporting Communication


  1. Does the child or young person understand what is required?
  2. Is it meaningful to the child or young person? It is only when the child or young person understand s the relevance of the task, that he or she may engage. If the relevance is vague, then the child or young person may not see why he or she needs to complete the task. Teach and ensure the student understands the meaningfulness and purposefulness of the task, as this is a motivating factor which may increase engagement. (Classroom and playground)
  3. Does the child or young person have the requisite skill set?
  4. Does he or she appreciate his or her skill set and have confidence to approach and attempt the required task? (Communication Passport)

Remember tasks or activities, which create frustration and heightened anxiety for the individual can result in challenging incidents, which perpetuate insecurity, erode confidence, foster distrust in the school and the teacher, and may result in avoiding behaviours. (Use instructional strategies which support successful outcomes)

Chart showing the levels of learning

To assist developing a positive environment it is important to be prepared for the child or young person with autism, as it is much easier to avoid problems than trying to accommodate them after they occur.

Case Study 4 (Whole School Building Capacity)

Points to remember

  • Typically developing children have thousands of communicative opportunities every day.
  • For children and young people with autism, once you have created one communicative opportunity and taught communication within it, you need to plan for the next communicative opportunity.
  • It is important to teach communication at various times throughout the day!
  • Create communicative opportunities during all activities for example pause during a favourite routine, place items in sight but out of reach or eat a desired food in front of the child without offering.
  • The ideal state for interaction and communication is when the child or young person is CALM and ALERT