The new school year is just around the corner. As students transition into the new school year it is important to maintain our efforts to keep schools accessible to all students. Provided below is a list to help increase understanding for teaching with students with autism.
1. Your students will likely have special interests
Learning your students’ interests early in the school year can help you build a strong relationship with your students. Do they love Minecraft or have other favorites? Incorporating their favorite characters, shows, etc. into their activities can build their motivation to engage in challenging or non-preferred tasks when they are incorporated into the material.
2. Establish a flexible routine
Your students will have a variety of skills that may not encompass every skill needed in order to succeed in the classroom setting. Teach your students to set up flexible, yet structured, routines for each component of school (e.g., homework, classwork, etc.). These routines will help establish their organization skills providing them with structure and guidance.
3. Transition warnings help students
Some students with autism will exhibit difficulties with surprise activities and changes to their routines. Transitions are helpful for students to cope with change as well as interruptions. Before concluding an activity and starting a new one, provide a two-minute warning so your students know that a transition will occur. Some students will benefit from visual aids to warn of transitions, such as a Time Timer, while others may respond better to warnings given vocally. Having a visual schedule for the flow of activities of the day, in an area the student can easily access is often helpful. These can be pictures or words, depending on the skillset of your students and can be a more discreet way of students learning what activities come next. Providing verbal praise, stickers, check marks, or other simple things your student enjoys when they successfully transition between activities is a great way to strengthen that behavior so that you see it occur more often.
4. Keep an eye on repetitive behaviors
Self-stimulatory or “stimming” behaviors may happen throughout the school day. Most are not dangerous, but they may interfere with your students learning. You may pick up on your student engaging in repetitive behaviors such as repeating certain phrases or making certain sounds over and over. This is considered vocal stereotypy. Other students may engage in hand flapping, running back and forth in a small space or rocking, which are types of motor stereotypy. If you notice these types of behaviors, you should discuss them with the parents. As a team, you can discuss more appropriate activities or items that can compete with the stereotypy to reduce its frequency; particularly if it is causing a disruption for the child or other students. When appropriate, it may be helpful to provide the other students in the classroom with an explanation of the behaviors to increase peer tolerance of individual differences and create an inclusive learning environment.
5. Students with ASD will need specific instructions
When teaching students on the spectrum, be cautious of your language. Avoid using overly wordy messages and instead, aim to be succinct. Giving simple, but specific instructions will make it easier for you student to comprehend and follow through with your instructions.
6. Remain calm even during problem behavior
It is easy to get flustered or even upset when a student has a tantrum in the middle of the classroom; the key is to remain calm. Students with autism will sometimes communicate using problem behavior when they don’t have a more effective method of communication. During situations such as these, it is important to keep your reactions as neutral as possible (i.e., leveled tone of voice and body language). Present easy prompts to increase compliance and reestablish instructional control following problem behavior.
7. Teach proper social interactions
One of the most important skills you can teach to a student with ASD is proper social interaction. The school setting offers a perfect environment for students to interact with a variety of peers. Use peer play activities to ensure appropriate social skills and encourage them to model their peers’ examples.
8. Down time is a useful reinforcer
Providing your students with break intervals in between long activities will increase the likelihood of the student remaining engaged. These breaks will also increase motivation in students as they pair completing a specific task or learning a skill with receiving a reinforcer.
9. Every Student on the spectrum is unique
Autism is a spectrum disorder; each child has different abilities and needs. Not all students will engage in an activity the same way so make sure your curriculum is set to accommodate their varied interests and skill repertoires. Contrive teaching opportunities that encompass multiple learning styles. Communicating with parents will allow you to understand your student’s abilities and how you can foster opportunities for growth within the classroom.
Learn More About Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Thank you for taking the time learn more about your students! We hope that our list can help you make your classroom manageable this upcoming school year. As always, BCOTB is readily available to answer any questions you may have.