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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex and multi-layered neurological variation 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.
Part1 : Using Strategies to Help with Communication
- 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
- Understand that not all autistic children can use the same techniques that you use when teaching a certain subject, and understand that some ASD kids may pick it up very quickly.
- For example, instead of telling them “Perhaps you should go back to the drawing board,” say, “I want you to try this activity again.”
- 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, and use short sentences whenever possible.
- For example, you may need to print out different pictures of food. At snack time, have the child point to what they want.
- 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.
Part2 : Using Strategies to Help with Social and Behavioral Issues
- For example, if a child loves cars, use toy cars to teach geography on a map by “driving” the car to different states.
- 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, and talking in a pleasant voice, among other things. Make sure that the child is interested and willing to help first.
- 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.
- 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.
Part3 Using Strategies to Help with Sensory Issues
- Construct your teaching area with separate and defined stations such as toys, crafts, and dress up. Have a calm and quiet space where the child can take breaks if they are overwhelmed.
- 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.
- 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.
- Some autistic children use noise-cancelling headphones or weighted blankets to calm themselves down when they are overstimulated. Respect the child’s need to use these tools.
- 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 child will seek stimulation from biting, hitting, or otherwise harming themselves or others. In this case, it is best to speak with the special education coordinator to figure out how to help the child use a replacement stim that does not cause harm. Avoid telling an autistic child not to stim. This can make them feel bad or ashamed of themselves.
- 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 or annoying, and do not understand when something is negatively affecting an autistic student.
Part4 : Understanding the Law and Best Practices
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 autism, while simultaneously respecting the learning needs of the remaining neurotypical students.
- Get to know the student as an individual. While stereotypes are common, every autistic person is unique, and will have different needs. 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.