Children with autism often present unique learning challenges. Around the world, 1 in 68 children is diagnosed with some form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In this article we’ll provide a few tips for parents and teachers to better support children with autism.
What is autism in the classroom?
This developmental disability can cause social, behavioral, and communication challenges in children. According to a recent study approximately 77 percent of children on the spectrum are attending mainstream schools. The same study also found that most teachers lack the confidence and resources to support learners with autism while parents were barely certain that teachers were able to handle children with autism.
How autism impacts a student’s life
Every child with autism has unique needs which are reflected differently. The challenges they in life and with their teachers and peers will definitely impact their lives. These challenges can raise your child’s stress, depression, and anxiety levels.
A classroom is a social environment that heavily relies on the learner’s ability to socialize, interact, and communicate effectively with others. These can further intensify the child’s anxiety, stress, and depression levels. This presents unique challenges to teachers, with autism students being more likely to require extra social and learning support services. Research shows the importance of understanding the link between a student’s ability to learn in the classroom and their social and emotional competence.
Weak social-emotional competence can greatly impact the student’s ability to connect with the school and excel in the classroom. This reinforces the idea that social-emotional learning plays a critical role in learning, school attendance, classroom behavior, and academic engagement for every student. The heavy focus on the classroom aspect of the curriculum and the demand for data-driven accountability that teachers are required to address often results in the focus on social-emotional learning and mental health being overlooked.
Tips for parents with autistic children
There are many things parents can do to help their child with autism overcome their challenges in life, however, it’s important to make sure you get the support you need to properly care for your child.
1. Understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses
Experts recommend that you have a really good understanding of your child. You can use the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) to assess your child. This standard evaluation tool is used to assess an autistic child’s social and communication behavior. Ask your child’s your doctor or an expert in autism to perform this test for your child. The result will help you and your teacher guide the child’s individualized education plan (IEP).
2. Practice, practice, practice
The old adage, “practice makes perfect” still holds. It takes an autistic child multiple attempts to learn to pronounce words as simple as “he” or “she” right. So do not expect them to be able to just walk into the classroom and skip along. Experts suggest showing up at least one week before the start of a new school term. Practice walking to school, and once there, show them their new classroom. Also, teach your child how to get to the bathrooms and water fountains.
3. Get involved with your school
Experts advise that parents with autistic children should consider volunteering at school events or joining the PTA. This way, it becomes much easier to keep tabs on what is happening both at school as well as in the classroom. This will also be a great opportunity for your child’s teacher to get to know you.
4. Share what you know
Experts recommend providing your teacher with materials and manuals that focus on kids with autism. Request them to share these materials with your child’s coach, therapists, and everyone else who works with your child at school.
Tips for teaching children with autism
Every child has unique learning needs. However, autistic children require a little extra support and guidance to excel in the classroom. As an autistic child’s teacher, it is important that you understand what the child needs and how you can help them become better learners. And these 10 simple tips will definitely help you get going.
1. Create a structured classroom environment
Autistic children tend to feel more comfortable when subjected to clearly defined structures, and limited deviations from a predictable schedule. Ensure that the classroom environment, as well as lesson plans, are structured in a manner that clearly tells your students what they should do, when they should do it, for how long, when it is completed, and what follows next.
2. Make communication easier
There are many communication techniques that you can use when teaching kids with autism. For instance, some schools promote the use of sign language for autistic children with poor speech skills. Facilitated communication is another approach that can help autistic students learn better. This may involve, among other things, holding the learner’s hands and training them to press the right keys on portable communication gadgets.
3. Use visual aids
Visuals are very important tools for teaching young children, especially those with autism. Language builder picture cards, photographs, stickers, drawings, and “if/then” cards can be routinely incorporated into various learning activities. Pictures schedules and mini-schedules can be used for providing structures. Other tools like web-based videos and tutorials can be incorporated into the learning system to deliver information in a visual and entertaining manner that kids with autism will find much easier to absorb.
4. Encourage social interactions
As a teacher, it is important that you help students with autism develop the skills and knowledge essential for social interaction, both in school and at home. An autistic child may not seem interested in interacting with their peers, teachers, and parents, however, it is important that you keep teaching them the basic, yet essential, social skills. Teachers should build an environment that motivates children to practice their social and communication skills. Try introducing your autistic learners to Stages Learning Emotion Cards to help students learn to interpret facial expressions.
5. Create structured activities too
Providing structures within various learning activities can be effective when helping students with autism become better learners. Introduce visuals to provide autistic learners with information for every learning activity or tasks, in the same manner, you schedule lesson plans on a daily basis. For instance, you can use a timer to help students learn how long they need to spend on each task. To help children improve their social skills, be sure to include opportunities for peer interaction too.
6. Use direct language
Young learners with autism may not understand figurative language or abstract concepts, and they tend to take most things pretty much literally. Non-verbal communications like gestures and facial expressions may not make sense to them at all. If you are used to teaching non-autistic children, it might take time before you can master the right wording when communicating with them. It is important that you are as direct as possible. So be sure to practice.
7. Be patient with them
Even when using direct language, autistic students may not be able to react or respond appropriately. Give them extra time so they can process and absorb what you are communicating to them. Patience is very essential when teaching autistic children. If you try to rush the child or hurry your statements, questions, or instructions, you will only frustrate and slow them down.
8. Be sensitive to their sensory issues
Autistic children are either under-sensitive or over-sensitive to sensory stimuli. For instance, strong perfumes, buzzing of electrical appliances, certain lighting, or echoes from adjacent rooms may be a real bother to them. This can trigger extreme reactions and affect their learning, so remain aware of these potential triggers and eliminate them from the classroom environment as much as you can. Provide your autistic learners with sensory tools that can help them reduce stress and process information you are communicating to them.
9. Get rid of potential causes of stress
Autistic children do not react well to disruptions and changes to their routine. Therefore, be sure to use transition warnings, clear instructions, and visual schedules to help them feel at ease. Remember, positive reinforcement is often more effective than punishments and threats that are likely to trigger anxiety and other inappropriate behavioral issues. The idea is to focus on building a positive learning environment where your students feel safe and comfortable.
10. Keep instructions simple
Complex chains of directions can be a challenge for most students to follow, and particularly so for students with autism. Most children with autism struggle with processing oral language. As such, it is important that you break down instructions step-by-step and avoid giving multiple instructions at a time. Be sure to use short and simple sentences that are clear. This will allow children enough time to process and respond to instructions appropriately.
It takes a lot of hard work and patience to help autistic students get the most out of the classroom experience. Additionally, it also takes a good dose of structure and the understanding that autistic children are unique. That means that each child exhibits unique symptoms as well as learning styles. Figuring out how to manage these symptoms and learning styles are key to helping autistic children become the best possible learners that they can be.