Autism can present many challenges to a child’s life, especially at school. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects the way the brain processes sensory experiences, causing issues with communication and social interaction.
Children with ASD may get disturbed when exposed to loud noises, bright colors, and strong smells, causing them to engage in repetitive and stereotypic behaviors. They may:
- Have trouble talking or making eye contact
- Seem to prefer playing alone or being in their own world
- Shows unusual attachments to certain objects or activities
- Struggles in social interactions with other students
- Have problems with fine and gross motor coordination
Accommodating a child with autism in the classroom needs special consideration. It’s important for teachers to be empathetic in understanding the needs of autistic children and integrating their learning styles into their teaching methods.
7 tips for supporting autistic children in the classroom
1. Establish a routine
The world is a noisy, disordered, anxiety-inducing place for children with ASD. So having a fixed routine that is stable and predictable is a great way to make a child with autism comfortable in class. While most classes are structured in nature, teachers can help autistic children understand the routine and make it clear to them.
One way to do this is to create a visual timetable. Teachers can place images to describe activities and transitions (for example, a book for library period and an origami picture for crafts) in chronological order to help the child understand how the day will progress.
2. Work with their parents
Children with ASD often have what is called sensory sensitivity that causes them to get anxious or aggressive around certain sounds or textures. But this sensitivity is specific to each child. So it’s best to talk to a child’s parents before they start a particular class to find out what in particular disturbs them. For example, if the child hates the sound of the school bell, you may allow them to use noise-canceling headphones five minutes before the bell goes off.
3. Integrate their interests
Many children with autism can become highly skilled and focused on specific interests, whether it’s electronics, painting, unicorns, or a certain period in history. Teachers can use these interests as gateways to learning. For example, if you know a child is interested in cars, they can try integrating pictures of cars in their math or spelling exercises.
4. Use colorful visual aids
Teachers can use visual aids to help kids with autism focus on what is being taught in class. For example, they can deliver instructions in color-coded notebooks and use colored markers and pens to help students differentiate subjects. Visual cues such as pictures, symbols, and photos, as well as bulletin boards, banners, and posters, can help strengthen content knowledge.
5. Deliver instruction visually
Since students with ASD struggle with communication, they can benefit from the following types of instruction:
- Demonstrating, modeling, or acting out instructions. They can also use hand signals.
- Repeating instructions after allowing 10 seconds for understanding. They should speak slowly and clearly and modify tone and pace.
- Putting instructions in the same place.
- Simplifying tasks and breaking them into small steps.
- Providing extra time and resources.
- Involving students in presentations.
- Teaching them in teams.
6. Teach social skills
Teachers can use a variety of methods and techniques to support social skill development:
- Social stories
- Video modeling
- Labeling and recognition of emotions in self and others
- Structured outdoor or indoor recess with the goal of applying social skills and measuring generalization of skills in a large setting
- Giving structured instructions through games and discussion
7. Alternative exams
Many kids with autism do not like to write, as it may be difficult for them to focus enough to write out an answer to a question. Or they may lack fine motor coordination skills. Teachers can provide alternative methods for autistic children to demonstrate what they’ve learned, such as:
- Oral exams
- Multiple-choice questions
- Graphs or diagrams
- Flow charts
- Comic strips
What are some educational materials that can help children with ASD?
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may require various educational materials to help them adapt to the curriculum, including:
- Low-vocabulary books, audio, and videotapes
- Augmentative and alternative communication devices and voice output devices
- Talking calculators
- Educational software designed for struggling learners or children with ASD
- Sticky notes
- Various writing materials—golf pencils, magic markers, highlighters, chalk holders, pencil grips, and stamps/stamp pads
- Slant writing boards and recipe stands
- Desk organizers
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