SPELL Framework



SPELL is The National Autistic Society’s framework for understanding and responding to the needs of children and adults on the autism spectrum. It focuses on five principles that have been identified as vital elements of best practice in autism, and emphasises ways to change the environment and our approaches to meet the specific needs of each person.

SPELL stands for Structure, Positive approaches and expectations, Empathy, Low arousal, Links.


Structure makes the world a more predictable, accessible and safer place. We can support people on the autism spectrum in creating structured environments using visual information. 

Positive (approaches and expectations)

We must seek to establish and reinforce self-confidence and self-esteem by building on natural strengths, interest and abilities.


We must try to see the world from the standpoint of the autistic child or adult, knowing what it is that motivates or interests them but importantly what may also frighten, preoccupy or otherwise distress them.

Low arousal

Approaches and the environment need to be calm and ordered in such a way so as to reduce anxiety and aid concentration.


Autistic people, their parents or advocates should be seen as partners. Open links and communication will reduce the risk of misunderstanding, confusion or the adoption of fragmented, piecemeal approaches.

At Marlborough we work within the Spell ideals by considering the following for each of our students during their school day:


  • Introducing timetables will help the student to predict what’s happening next, and to tell them about any changes to the usual routine. Use timers to clearly label how long an activity will last.
  • Explain tasks in small manageable chunks with a clear start and end point.
  • Use visual cues (symbols and pictures) to support a student’s understanding of an activity.
  • Provide structure in unstructured times, for example, offer choice boards and structured games at lunch time and playtime. Limit choices, making them clear to avoid any confusion.
  • Structure your communication. Use the students name first to obtain their attention before giving an instruction and allow the student time to process this before moving onto the next. Use language that is clear, precise and concrete.
  • Colour code work sets, for example, colour all science books blue and label all science equipment with a blue sticker to enable the student to organise themselves more independently.


  • Ensure expectations are realistic and individual to the child. All work given must be achievable to ensure continued motivation and success.
  • Use reward strategies and motivators to ensure appropriate behaviour is continued. Use a low arousal (dead pan) response when dealing with inappropriate behaviours.
  • Maintain consistency when dealing with challenging behaviour through the use of behaviour support plans. Provide positive alternatives to behaviour, for example, allow the student to use a time out when he/she becomes anxious in class. Try not to say ‘no hitting’, but use ‘hands down’ so students are aware of what to do instead.
  • Identify and use a pupil’s strengths or special interests when planning activities.
  • Build self-esteem by creating opportunities for pupils to develop independence, have responsibility and make a contribution to a group.


  • Develop a pupil profile to increase staff understanding of an individual child. Include triggers to behaviour, phobias, motivators and anxieties. Include a sensory profile to understand which stimuli are highly sensitive. Share this information with all school staff likely to come into contact with that child, including lunchtime assistants and school caretakers, to try to avoid situations which may lead to distress.
  • Educate staff and peers through training and strategies such as “circle of friends”.
  • Offer practical help for problem areas such as social scripts and understanding social rules.
  • See behaviour as a means of communication – what is he/she trying to tell me?
  • Ensure actual comprehension has been achieved –understanding may be masked by learned phrases or echolalia. Use communication strategies such as visual supports and the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) to assist this.

Low Arousal

  • Check environment for potential distractions specific to the individual (flickering lights, strong smells, noises)
  • Create a workstation or space free from distractions for work tasks or learning new or complex skills.
  • Filter out irrelevant stimuli, for example, unnecessary illustrations on worksheets.
  • Use resources to address individual needs (ear defenders to block out sounds when working, tangle toys, weighted blankets etc)


  • Ensure parents are involved throughout the process to help monitor progress and review targets. Share information through home school books and draw up behaviour support plans together. These can then be used consistently across home and school.
  • See the student themselves as a partner in the education process and consult with them and their parents on developments.
  • Ensure all staff are informed of support strategies and current issues.
  • Share information with other professionals such as Speech and Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Educational Psychologists.