Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex and multi-layered neurological disorder that manifests differently from person to person. This creates a challenge when determining how to teach autistic children. Although each child is an individual who responds to teaching methods differently, there are a few strategies that are generally applied to help autistic children succeed in educational goals. These strategies build on the characteristics of autism, including differences in communication, social skills, behavior, and sensory issues.
Part 1 of 4: Using Strategies to Help with Communication
1Assume that all children are competent. All autistic children are capable of learning. They simply need to find a strategy for proper information absorption.
- Learn to accept that autistic children may always have differences, and should not be evaluated on the same basis as their neurotypical classmates. Autistic children should be evaluated in relation to their own grown and learning over time.
2Avoid long verbal commands or lectures. These can be confusing, as autistic children often have trouble processing sequences, particularly spoken ones.
- If the child can read, write down the instructions. If the child is still learning, written instructions with pictures might help.
- Give instructions in small steps.
3Use closed captions on a television. This can help both those who can and cannot yet read.
- Children who cannot read yet will associate printed words with spoken words. Furthermore, autistic children sometimes have difficulty processing spoken words, especially those from TVs, and children who can read may benefit from being able to see the words as well as hear them.
- If a child has a favorite television show, record the show with the closed captions and incorporate the show as part of the reading lesson.
Part 2 of 4: Using Strategies to Help with Social and Behavioral Issues
1Use special interests to facilitate the learning process. Many autistic children fixate on their special interests, and this passion can be used as an advantage when teaching.
- For example, if a child loves cars, use toy cars to teach geography on a map by “driving” the car to different states.
2Teach autistic children through peer modeling. Many autistic children have difficulties being attuned to emotion, motivations, and other social cues that are instinctive among non-autistic children; they must learn these explicitly.
- Many autistic children are capable of learning how to interact appropriately. They may simply need to be told techniques explicitly, instead of picking them up only through observation.
- Very young children in preschool and kindergarten can learn simple tasks like color discrimination, letter discrimination, or answering “yes” or “no” to simple questions by observing their neurotypical peers engaging in these tasks. During centers or group work, consider pairing an autistic child who struggles in a certain area with a neurotypical child who excels in that area. For instance, if an autistic student struggles with color discrimination, pair that child with a neurotypical child who excels in color discrimination. By observing a peer perform the task correctly, an autistic child can learn to mimic the targeted behavior.
- Neurotypical children who are first grade through high school and who exhibit developmentally appropriate social skills can be trained to serve as peer models for their autistic classmates, modeling social skills for interaction such as eye contact, pleasant greetings, sharing ideas, recommending changes nicely, talking in a pleasant voice, among other things.
3Read stories to show proper behavior in different situations. For example, read a story about a child who is sad and point out a frown or tears as examples of sadness to help an autistic child learn how to pick up on emotions. The child can learn by memorization.
- Some autistic children benefit from a technique known as “social stories”, very brief narratives that describe social situations. These stories help them by providing behaviors to model in various situations.
4Create a predictable schedule. Many autistic children thrive on a predictable schedule, so giving them the security to know what to expect each day is beneficial.
- Place a clearly-visible analog clock on the wall and tape images that represent the day’s activities and the times they occur. Refer to this clock while mentioning the time that activities are to take place. If the child has difficulty reading analog clocks (as a lot of autistic children do), invest in a digital clock that is equally visible.
- Picture schedules are also useful.
Part 3 of 4: Using Strategies to Help with Sensory Issues
1Delineate the teaching space. This is crucial as autistic children often have trouble coping with different environments or chaotic spaces.
- Construct your teaching area with separate and defined stations such as toys, crafts, and dress up.
- Place physical indications of defined areas on the floor, such as mats for each child to play upon, a taped square outline for a reading area, etc.
2Observe the child’s self-created framework for learning. In some cases this will involve particular objects, behaviors, or rituals that support learning or memory. This can vary by child.
- Do they need to walk to list the alphabet? Does holding a blanket help them to read aloud? Whatever it may be, allow the children to learn within their own framework.
3Accept stimming. “Stimming” is a term that refers to self-stimulatory behavior such as flapping hands or fidgeting, frequently observed among people who have autism.
- Stimming is crucial to autistic children’s concentration and sense of well-being.
- Teach the child’s peers to be respectful of stimming, rather than teaching the autistic child to suppress it.
- Occasionally, an autistic will seek stimulation from biting, hitting, or otherwise harming other people. In this case, it is best to speak with the special education coordinator to figure out how to control the behavior while still supporting the child’s learning.
4Understand that if an autistic child is reacting to a stimulus in a way in which you or their peers may find odd, it is probably for a reason. For example, if a child panics every time someone touches their head, it may be because it is painful to them (many autistic individuals have a low pain threshold.
- You may want to explain to other class members that the autistic student is not reacting just to make others laugh, and that they do not like whatever the stimulus is. Autistic children are often bullied unintentionally, as neurotypical children can find their reactions amusing, and do not understand when something is negatively affecting an autistic student.
Part 4 of 4: Understanding the Law and Best Practices
1Understand that every child has the right to an education, regardless of disability status. In the United States, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, enacted in 1975) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (enacted in 1990) are federal laws that require public schools to provide a free and accessible education for all individuals.
- The laws cover children who meet eligibility requirements in one of thirteen areas, whose disability negatively affects his or her educational performance, and who requires special educational services as a result of their disability. Autism spectrum disorder is a qualifying diagnosis.
- Not only must the state provide a free education for all individuals, but that education must meet his or her unique individual needs, which can differ from neurotypical children (that is, children who do not have a neurological diagnosis such as ASD).
- Every child who qualifies for special education services must have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), which specifies what accommodations a student requires because of his or her diagnosis.
- Reasonable accommodations for a child receiving special educational services can vary widely. Some students may only need extra time to take tests or assistive technology like a laptop, while others may require a paraprofessional, small group instruction, or curriculum modification.
2Respect your student’s privacy through confidentiality. It is a teacher’s responsibility to accommodate a student’s IEP without singling out the child or disclosing his or her diagnosis to the rest of the class without permission.
- Students with special needs often have medical diagnoses, treatment plans, and medications included in their educational records, which are all protected under their right to privacy under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This makes you legally liable if you disclose their private information without the consent of their parents.
- Generally, the student’s right to privacy is limited by a “need to know” basis. Faculty and staff (coaches, playground monitors, cafeteria staff, etc.) might need to know about an autistic child’s condition in order to understand their communication skills, limitations, fixations, outbursts, or other manifestations of their condition.
- If you are unsure about your district’s confidentiality procedures, talk with the district special education coordinator. Consider arranging a topical workshop for teachers to learn about these procedures.
- If you need to initiate a class- or school-wide policy to protect the interests of a child with special needs (for instance, instituting a peanut-free policy at a school where a child is allergic), notify the families of the policy and indicate that it is to protect a student with a special need. However, do not mention the affected child by name.
- Autistic students and their classmates all benefit if the other students understand an autistic classmate’s diagnosis, but for privacy reasons the teacher cannot disclose that diagnosis to the class. Many proactive parents will take it upon themselves to discuss their child’s autism with the class; plan a meeting with the parents early in the school year to let them know that your classroom doors are open to them if they want to do this.
3Support a “least restrictive environment.” IDEA mandates that students with disabilities are entitled to the “least restrictive environment” in education, which means their learning environment should be as similar to their non-disabled peers as possible.
- The least restrictive environment for a given student will vary, and is determined and written into the IEP by a team of people including the parents, medical team, and the school district’s special education department. The IEP will generally be re-evaluated annually, which means the least restrictive environment for a given student may change.
- In many cases, this means that autistic children should be educated in regular classrooms rather than in a special education classroom. This can vary depending on the student’s diagnosis and IEP, but in general, autistic students are placed in regular classrooms as much as possible. This practice is called “mainstreaming” or “inclusion”.
- In these situations, it is the responsibility of the teacher to make accommodations in the classroom for autistic children. Many of these accommodations will be specified on the student’s IEP. But educated teachers can also adapt their teaching strategies in ways that will support the learning processes unique to ASD, while simultaneously respecting the learning needs of the remaining neurotypical students.
4Evaluate approaches and interventions on an individualized basis. In addition to a student’s IEP, adaptations that are made for autistic students should be evaluated and implemented based on the individual student’s needs.
- Get to know the student as an individual. While stereotypes are common, autistic students may manifest their disorder in a variety of ways, and no two autistic people are the same. As a teacher, you must become aware of each student’s ability in each discrete educational area by assessing their current standing.
- Knowing a student’s current strengths and weaknesses will help you develop a plan to develop practical interventions. This is true in academic subject areas, as well as social and communication skills.
Via : wikihow