Jessica is five years old and has just begun school in regional South Australia. She’s also just been diagnosed with Attention Deficits Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which explains why she seems to act out so much, can’t seem to stay focused on any one thing and why she might be struggling to keep up in class, since life is actually so much harder for her compared to her friends.

So, what now?

I still find it hard to believe that the internet as we know it today was only created around 30 years ago in the 1990’s. It was only much later than this date did it start to become mainstream, with my own first experience of it in 1996 - and that was only at school. This is because it was still really expensive for your average person to have at home, our household certainly couldn’t afford it until some years later. The internet’s true potential was yet to be fully realised, however, and in such a short space of time, it has created (and destroyed) billion pound businesses in that small time frame.

The goal of a teacher is to teach their students the best they can. To achieve this goal, educators need to be adaptive. This is because, of course, each student is an individual. As such, they learn differently and have different needs.

Students that place on the autism spectrum have certain difficulties that need to be addressed by educators. Luckily, with the numerous technology innovations that the modern era has brought us offers plenty of opportunities for educators and students with autism alike.

What Is Autism?

To understand which technologies help students with autism and how they help, it’s first important to understand what autism is. You have to understand what difficulties an autistic student faces in a classroom to be able to address them.

According to the American Psychological Association, autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is recognised by social and communication impairments as well as restrictive and repetitive patterns in their behaviours, interests, and activities.

The full title autism spectrum disorder should be noted as well. This means that even if you have a pair of students with autism, they might present very differently. The goal of technology is to help make the learning process helpful to all students.

Visual Scene Displays

The Diagnostic Center Central has said that as many as 50% of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are non-verbal. Many others struggle with communication and are limited verbally. This can make simple learning processes in a traditional classroom setting more difficult. For instance, how does a student join in a class discussion when they aren’t verbal?

This is where visual scene displays can come in handy. These can be found in the form of mobile apps most often, making them easy to weave into the classroom.

This type of technology allows students to put their answers and join in the discussion via an art scene. This way, students can join in without being limited by the struggle with speech.

On the note of autistic students and visuals, it can also be helpful to add graphics to classroom assignments. These can be much easier to process for these students rather than a page of written instructions.

Adjust Technology for Sensory Sensitivity

Another aspect of ASD is that many individuals with it have trouble with sensory sensitivity. This might include sensitivity to bright light, loud noises, and even tactile feelings such as an itchy sweater can be uncomfortable.

In this section, we will look at how the technology that you already have can be adapted to fit these needs.

One example would be helping students that get overwhelmed by bright lights. If you go into the settings of almost any desktop, laptop, or tablet, you'll be able to turn the brightness down. It only takes a few seconds and it can make a huge difference. Some students might also do better with a bigger screen or for computers to be bypassed with printed assignments when possible.

Students who are sensitive to sound might benefit from a pair of headphones or muted background music on educational games. Due to tactile sensitivities, headphones might not be an option. When it comes to tactile sensitivity, some students might do well with the flat surface of a tablet while others might do better with traditional keyboards.

Also, having a sensory-informed classroom is important, because sensory tools improve attention and participation, and can have big benefits for kids with learning and attention issues.

Once again, you’ll be able to learn more about what works for a student through working with them and taking advice and information from their parents about their sensitivities.

Social Skills on Tape

It was noted earlier that students with ASD struggle with social skills. This can cause them to act inappropriately when they don’t mean to. However, unlike most students, they might not understand another student’s reaction to their behaviour and learn from it.

What can be very useful, though, is to use videos for teaching social skills to students. This can be particularly useful to younger students as videos teaching manners can be useful to all students.

Typing Vs. Writing

We mentioned earlier that the topic of typing on a smooth tablet vs. physical keyboard might appeal to some students with autism more than others. However, there is an argument for utilizing typing vs. writing in the classroom.

It was noted that autism affects an individual’s development. Among these developmental steps that they might struggle with is fine motor skills. That means that when they have an idea in the classroom, it can be difficult to express it by writing it down on a worksheet.

Instead, consider introducing the use of computers or tablets into the classroom that will allow students to type up their ideas and answers even though they are struggling to write them down.

This is useful to all students as well. In the modern era, the likelihood that students will need typing skills is very high. So, teaching these skills in the classroom can be helpful to all your students. 

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Did you know that horse riding offers tremendous benefits for pupils with severe learning difficulties? This article considers an innovative approach to widening education access to include more pupils, including those who struggle with a real-life horse, and those with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD).

To begin with, it is useful to consider the benefits of horse riding. “The therapeutic benefits of riding are numerous and as well as the physical benefits of improving posture, becoming stronger and helping riders to become more supple, exercising with a horse is great fun! You can improve your awareness, communication, confidence and decision making, as well as enjoy activities with a community of like-minded people.” (RDA, 2018).

There is such a wide range of benefits to horse riding that it is easiest to provide some bullet points!

  • Relationship building - the pupil will benefit from the opportunity to build a relationship, and be able to trust a horse, as well as staff and peers in an alternative environment.
  • Activities of daily living - learning to groom the horse and look after its wellbeing. These skills can be transferred to the pupil’s own daily routines, helping them to develop their self-awareness and self-care.
  • Sensory experience - therapeutic riding and equine interaction provide a sensory experience which enables a broad range of new stimuli to be introduced, such as smells, sounds, textures, movement, pressure, rhythmical movement and perturbations to balance. The activity develops the sense of movement within joints and joint position, stimulating balance and spatial orientation systems.
  • Purposeful hand skills and fine motor coordination - riding requires specific hand skills, as well as the ability to change grasp and alter the purpose of hand movements - both unilaterally and bilaterally. For example, grasping for balance, holding reins and initiating steering, grooming, and touching the horse.
  • Balance and gross motor coordination - mounting and riding requires balance and gross motor control. The movement of the horse requires the body to reciprocally activate alternate muscles on both sides of the body to maintain balance. The trunk is forced to work continually to maintain and regain balance. This improves abdominal muscle strength, and is particularly helpful at promoting a symmetrical posture, coordinated movements and balance (very much like rebound therapy).
  • Communication - riding and equine interaction requires a broad range of communication skills and behaviours. Pupils will be enabled to develop their interactions with both the instructor and helpers, as well as learning how to ask the horse to move forwards, stop and change direction and speed.
  • Exercise as a leisure activity - riding promotes physical activity, and the use of muscles and light exertion, as part of a pleasant social activity. It enables pupils the opportunity to exercise in an alternative environment and take part in a peer group activity.
  • Behaviour – riding and associated activities, such as grooming, promote the understanding of body language, tone of voice, appropriate language and behaviour and encourages empathy and understanding of emotions in relation to themselves, the horse and others.


Within an educational setting, it is always important to consider the impact of an intervention, and this is no different.

In addition to providing cardiovascular benefits, decreased physiological stress is associated with animal interaction, contributing to better overall health.” - Pets Are Wonderful Support, 2007

With regards to the outcomes for pupils the photographs speak for themselves with reference to the therapeutic impact of horse riding “...offering stable work and riding to adolescents in an environment with a supportive adult and peers may benefit their psychological development.” - Hauge, H. Et al (2013).

A member of staff reflecting about one pupil commented that, “She benefitted by starting to overcome her fear of the horse. On the last visit she actually entered the sand school and was coaxed up to the horse to touch it. She has been desensitised”.

Riding also provides an additional opportunity for that all important increased physical activity to manage a pupils weight and therefore can be important part of a pupils PE package. There is also a more formal aspect to horse riding; the opportunity to gain some recognition for their achievements! Pupils have achieved a number of AQA Pre-Entry level awards that are available including:

  • Preparing to ride a horse.
  • Introduction to pony riding.
  • Horse riding: basic skills.
  • Horse riding skills.
  • Riding for the Disabled Association Unit 1 and Unit 2.
  • In 2015/16, five KS2 pupils had achieved the RDA Unit 1 award
  • In 2016/17, 21 pupils across the school achieved AQA unit awards, and six KS3 pupils had achieved the RDA Unit 1 award.



The majority of these awards were achieved by pupils with severe learning difficulties. Very few pupils with PMLD were able to access the horse riding, and for some pupils the prospect of engaging with a live animal was a step too far (though there were some who conquered their fears over a few weeks, and this had been their target). Barriers for pupils with PMLD included the inability to hoist pupils, the limited physical support available from the saddles, and the less controlled environment that provided specific risks for some pupils.

Many studies have indicated the beneficial effects in the rehabilitation of patients with diverse disabilities… The combination of a horse riding simulator and the concept of hippotherapy led to a new form of rehabilitation.” - Baillet, H. Et al, (2016).

The idea of buying a mechanical horse simulator was born. This would be indoors in a more controlled environment (and with hoisting available), would provide an introduction to horse riding to those who had a fear of the live animals, and would enable the school to find ways of providing access to pupils with more complex needs. There was a problem, though: horse simulators, used by professional horse riders, are rather expensive. A fundraising initiative - ’Tonto’ - was born, and the riding simulator along with a horse riding instructor were all set up to hit the floor galloping for the start of the 2017/18 academic year.


There are now in place a number of AQA Pre-Entry level awards for a horse simulator, including:

  • Horse simulator skills.
  • Preparing to ride a horse simulator.
  • Introduction to riding a horse simulator.
  • Riding a horse simulator with physical prompts.
  • Riding a horse simulator without prompts.

Here is an example of one of these awards:

To achieve the introduction to riding a horse simulator, the pupil will have demonstrated the ability to:

1. Cooperate with putting on a riding hat.
2. Get onto the horse simulator from the riding block or ramp with verbal or physical prompts.
3. Hold onto the saddle with both hands.
4. Ride independently on level ground, on uneven ground, uphill or downhill, on three occasions.
5. Trotting with minimal physical support.


Improved access. The horse riding sessions continue, but in addition there are now at least 30 pupils accessing weekly riding lessons with a qualified riding instructor on the simulator. These pupils are now able to access many of the benefits considered at the start of this article. Some of them will progress to the real horse riding lessons.

Increased accreditation. In addition to the awards achieved through horse riding, at the time of writing pupils are working towards the awards relating to the horse simulator.

Therapeutic benefits. With regards to the outcomes for pupils the photographs speak for themselves with reference to the therapeutic impact of the simulator. Anecdotal evidence, however, includes comments from staff, parents and pupils, including:

When he first got on Tonto he was very nervous, and did not want me to let go of his hands and back. By end of first session, he was riding independently. He had a further four sessions and wanted to try a faster walk. This lasted about 20 seconds, then he asked to go back to a slower walk. Then he went off-site horse riding, and actually rode the horse for the whole session, with only the horse leader for verbal support. These were great achievement in such a short space of time.

This was especially impressive as during the home visit, his mum said that he was scared of horses. The family own a horse, and he had fallen off of the trap and refused to go near the horse or ride again!

For two pupils, “it helped them to be focussed and calm upon returning to class. Attention and focus has improved over the course of the term within the riding lessons. All of them now remain on for the whole lesson, developing their riding skills, and also their focus and ability to follow verbal instructions.”.


Effect of Therapeutic Horseback Riding on Posture in Children with Cerebral Palsy. Paper presented at the 6th International Therapeutic Riding Congress,Toronto, Canada, 23-27 August. Bowlby, J. (1969).

Energy expenditure of horse riding. European Journal of applied psychology, 82, 499-503. DCMS (2007)

Equine-assisted activities and the impact on perceived social support, self-esteem and self-efficacy among adolescents – an intervention study, Hilde Hauge, Ingela L. Kvalem, Bente Berget, Marie-José Enders-Slegers & Bjarne O. Braastad (2013)

The health benefits of companion animals. Pets Are Wonderful Support, 2007

The health benefits of horse riding in the UK. The British Horse Society, 2010

Human Energy Expenditure and Postural Coordination on the Mechanical Horse, Journal of Motor Behavior, Héloïse Baillet, Régis Thouvarecq, Eric Vérin, Claire Tourny, Nicolas Benguigui, John Komar, & David Leroy (2016)

Riding, accessed from RDA website, February 2018.

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Why do you need to know about Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) for the school year ahead? It is the biggest cause of long-term sickness absence in the UK for students and staff. 21,000 children and young adults in the UK have the condition. You will have encountered an ME sufferer in your working life as an education professional, but do you understand what ME is?

To fully support students and fellow staff members achieve their potential, you need to understand that ME is a unique condition. Unlike many other disabilities, ME patients are unable to ‘push through’ or do ‘mind over matter’. Our bodies are lacking the essential life source that is energy. As hard as we attempt to fight against it, our bodies simply don’t cooperate because we don’t have the energy required to function properly.

What is ME? It is an invisible, severely debilitating neurological condition that affects 250,000 people here in the UK and 17-30 million people worldwide, and there is no effective treatment. ME is also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The name given to each individual patient is purely dependent on who the GP is or where they live in the world. It is exactly the same illness. Personally, I refuse to use the name Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. as it doesn’t adequately represent my condition. Extreme fatigue is only one of over 60 symptoms that come under the umbrella of the condition. In the same way that you wouldn’t call Parkinson’s Disease ‘Chronic Shaking Syndrome’, I don’t believe our condition can be summed up as fatigue.

Symptoms include: post-exertional malaise, pain, cognitive issues, brain fog, memory loss, inability to control temperature, skin rashes, painful glands, and ‘flu-like’ symptoms. ME has a spectrum of severity ranging from mild to severe. This means that it is hard to judge what each individual sufferer is capable of. In addition to this spectrum, ME fluctuates. Our fluctuations can change by the month, week, day and hour. What we can manage at 10am may not be possible at 3pm. We don’t know when these fluctuations will happen, and that makes planning anything incredibly difficult and frustrating. This makes the condition very easy to misunderstand and disregard.

To the best of my knowledge, when a school encounters a student with ME they contact the school’s GP to ask for advice. The problem with this is that GPs receive zero medical training on ME. This was discussed by Parliament in June 2018  MPs agreed that training was urgently needed as students - and the M.E community as a whole - are suffering due to the inadequate knowledge of ME of healthcare professionals.

GPs are currently likely to recommend that students be encouraged to push themselves and attend school. This advice comes from a ‘treatment’ known as Graded Exercise Therapy (GET). GET has been proven to be extremely damaging to the health of ME patients, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have declared they are reviewing their guidelines in 2020. GET was debated in Parliament in February 2018, and Ms Carol Monaghan SMP, a former Science teacher, told how “the impact [of GET] on those with ME has been devastating” and her view that “when the full details of the trial become known, it will be considered one of the biggest medical scandals of the 21st century.

GET is currently still recommended on the NHS Choices website. This is the website GPs use when researching ME and advising schools on supporting students with the condition. The ME community as a whole are heaving a sigh of relief that these guidelines are being reviewed, however it is worrying that so many more sufferers will be told to push themselves between now and 2020.

This notion of being able to ‘push through’ has caused students to be expelled, been told they are not allowed to go to the end of year prom, and fail qualifications because of the amount of school absenteeism and lack of appropriate support.

I have been an ME advocate for four years and have spoken at length to headteachers, heads of departments, and teachers who are worried that they are not offering adequate support to their students. Do they send work home? Would the student be able to attend school one day per week to keep up personal contact and relationships? How much work would they be able to cope with? Should they be given extended deadlines?

I can’t offer definitive answers. Only the ME patient can say what they can and can’t manage, and even then they may have unexpected bad days when all symptoms flare and make them bedbound. I have recommended offering a tailored approach. Flexible learning is a necessity, and allowing a student to work at their own pace is the only way they will leave school with qualifications.

I had ME myself aged 13-15. I was never diagnosed but - with hindsight - after contracting ME a second time aged 30, I know I had ME during my school years. Luckily, my school were very understanding and sent work home every week for me to complete. It was extremely difficult, but fortunately I am self-motivated and was happy to work with minimum instruction. I walked away from Secondary school with 9 GCSEs over grade C. I believe that there are many ME patients who are currently in school but are underachieving because their school isn’t as supportive as mine was, and who are having to battle for additional support when they should be concentrating on their health.

Post-exertion malaise is the defining characteristic of ME. Any activity can cause our symptoms to worsen - ME sufferers often call this ‘payback’. Our bodies are paying us back for using energy we don’t have. This could be an afternoon out with friends, or simply sitting and chatting over a coffee. It takes a lot of cognitive energy to hold a conversation; only people with limited energy understand that. Perhaps you have a student in your class whose parent has just called in to say their child is too sick to come to school, but you know they met up with their classmates socially the day before. This would be due to ‘payback’, but it is understandable that many would find it hard to believe that the student was genuinely sick.

It takes an incredibly long time to get a diagnosis if you are an NHS patient (mainly due to waiting lists). Patients undergo years of tests to rule out other conditions before getting a diagnosis. ME is basically what’s left at the bottom of the barrel. You may well have a student who has been ill for over 18 months and has high levels of school absence without knowing what is wrong. This is very common with ME. Our fluctuations and levels of severity make the condition incredibly difficult for GPs to diagnose.

My advice to teachers who this year have a student, or students, with long-term fatigue and long-term sickness absence is: support them, as soon as you can, irrespective of whether they are diagnosed or not. Quick and effective support increases the chances of ME patients going on to recover - or at least be able to maintain - a manageable level of severity. So many students have battled to attend lessons but have ended up making their health worse. Why battle to attend classes to get exams if you are so sick once you leave school that you are unable to work or are bedbound?

You can read more about Myalgic Encephalomyelitis on the ME Association website:

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Currently, the choice of whether to allow mobile phones in classrooms or entire schools rests in the hands of school representatives. For example, headteachers could enforce banning mobile phones in the whole facility during school hours.

“What can educators do to personalise assessments?” We posed this question to five of the UK’s leading edu-suppliers. Here are their thoughts....

Seating plans for a classroom are even more complicated than organising who sits where at a wedding reception. Like so much else in education, you need to define your objectives. It is not just about making sure sworn enemies are not seated side-by-side. Instead, you have to think about the individual needs. Is the child with ADHD better sitting right in front of you, where you can keep an eye on them, or by a wall where they only have a child on one side of them? Is it best to have a child who experiences sensory overload in a quiet area, on a separate single table, or should you put them with a small, sympathetic group who may be able to provide support?

All children need support both at home and at school, feeling happier and more secure when the two work collaboratively as one. This is when effective learning takes place; pupils grow in confidence and self-esteem and feel fulfilled. So, how do we as schools achieve this partnership and make it work effectively for our children?

Managing the school’s budget is arguably one of the hardest tasks a headteacher has to get to grips with. Children’s education is on the line, and more than that, people’s livelihood is also at risk if the head cannot manage their budget successfully. With ever decreasing funding available to schools, headteachers have had to become increasingly creative in order to fill the gaps in their budget.

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