Equal Opportunities Commission


Learn about Autism

Learn about Autism

Jonathan's Story

Smiling Jonathan

Jonathan, aged 7, diagnosed with autism, was studying in primary 2 in a mainstream school. His overall academic performance was mediocre as he could not handle certain subjects. While he managed to get an "A" in dictation, he found reading comprehension difficult. Though he was able to do simple mathematics, he had problems understanding examination questions.

At first, he also had difficulties getting along with his peers. His classmates found it amusing that Jonathan always smiled even when he should have felt miserable, so they often bullied Jonathan to test his patience. With excellent memory skills, Jonathan had a habit of murmuring the names of his fellow classmates who did not hand in their homework on time. This annoyed everybody, even the teachers perceived his behaviour as disruptive. Such misunderstanding caused Jonathan to become isolated from group activities during and out of school.

Worried about his predicament, Jonathan's parents contacted the school to discuss Jonathan's problems. After open and sincere discussions, the principal promised to provide Jonathan with all the assistance he needed to integrate fully in school life. Teachers were mobilised to learn about the attributes and needs of students with autism. Jonathan's parents and class teacher developed an individual study plan for him, and the teachers made necessary adjustment and accommodations in teaching and assessment. The school also developed a peer supporter scheme, and invited students to take on the role of peer supporters for those who needed assistance and support.

With efforts from all involved, Jonathan's school life has become much happier and his academic performance has also improved.


Autism is a broad spectrum of disorders ranging from mild to severe. It affects thought, perception and attention. Typical Autism symptoms may include:

* Difficulty in mixing with others
* Difficulty in expressing needs
* A preference for gestures or pointing instead of words
* Uneven gross/fine motor skills
* Lack of response to verbal cues
* Little or no eye contact with others
* Resistance to changes in routine
* Noticeable physical over activity / extreme under activity
* Tantrums
* Inappropriate attachment to objects
* Unusual ways of relating to people, objects and events
* Inappropriate laughing and giggling
* Speech/language problems or delays
* Echolalia (Repeating words of others)

A diagnosis of autistic disorder is likely when an individual displays 6 or more of the above symptoms across three major areas: social interaction, communication, and behaviour.


Most educators will agree that patience is absolutely necessary if one is to succeed in working with students with Autism. Successful educators understand students' limitations, respond to their behaviour appropriately and help students tackle problems which cause improper behaviour. Indulging a child in order to avoid a temper tantrum or confrontation will give the child a wrong message that his severe, oppositional behaviour will be rewarded. Educators need to set clear goals for their students and ensure that these goals are being attained. Positive reinforcement often produces amazing results. The following may also be beneficial:

* Set up a proper physical environment to meet the needs of the students
* Maintain communication with parents or even involving them in the instructional and learning processes
* Adopt a sustainable and consistent instructional process
* Set clear limits and enforce them fervently
* Provide training in communication and social skills to help autistic students develop proper behaviour
* Prioritise the teaching of skills / behaviours
* Keep an ongoing, meticulous record of students' progress


How can I make my class inclusive for Autistic students?

To assist Autistic students to learn and/or to enjoy school life, some adjustments are necessary. Some students may need certain special adjustments in teaching methods whilst others may require special accommodations in performance assessment. Examples of such adjustments are:

* Use concrete visual methods to teach abstract concepts
* Use simple words and sentences; avoid long strings of verbal instructions; and allow enough time for students to respond
* Use multi-sensory teaching methods to enhance students' understanding
* Assign only one task at a time
* Allow students to record their notes or hand in their assignments in different formats, for example, a typed assignment instead of a written assignment
* Use different formats like handouts, overheads, audios and videos where appropriate
* Highlight or repeat key words / phrases
* Where appropriate, make special arrangements for examinations such as extra time, alternative formats and alternative modes of assessment


DDO and the Code of Practice on Eduction

The Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO), effective since 1996, protects persons with a disability from discrimination, harassment and vilification on the ground of their disability.

The Ordinance makes particular references to the field of education to ensure that persons with a disability have equal opportunities in education. It requires educational establishments NOT to discriminate against students with a disability and to make reasonable accommodations to address their special needs. Such accommodations may include adjustments in teaching, communication, and assessment methods. The DDO also prohibits harassment in educational establishments, including harassment of students with a disability by other students. The law binds the government, educational establishments and their employees, and in the case of harassment and vilification, even the students.

The Code of Practice on Education under the DDO was issued in July 2001 by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) to provide guidance on the legal requirements under the DDO in the field of education. It serves to assist educational establishments in developing policies and procedures that prevent and eliminate disability discrimination, and educators in making provisions for students with disabilities. It covers a wide range of practical guiding principles on matters such as admission, providing access, curriculum design and assessment.

The Code is an aid for providers and recipients of educational services. It helps the providers to better understand what constitute non-discriminatory good practices in education, and the recipients to understand their rights and obligations.