Updated: Feb 21
As defined, autism is a neurodevelopmental disability, affecting a person's communication, social, and behavioral development. Remember, however, that autism affects each individual differently. When educating a child within the autistic spectrum, there are some simplistic strategies that a parent or teacher should keep in mind.
Children with autistic tendencies are often very sensitive to the classroom or learning environment. Therefore, visual and auditory stimulation must be a consideration. For example, if you show video clips in your classroom with a high level of volume, a child with autistic tendencies may experience difficulty with that form of stimulus. The same goes for visual stimuli, as well. With the autistic child, often "less is more."
Routine is paramount! An autistic child's daily routine (including school) has to be kept as consistent, as possible. In the classroom, having a visual schedule posted offers the student a visually clear depiction of the day's schedule and routines. This also allows for the child to know when to prepare for any transitions (i. e. transferring from class to class). As an educator, when incorporating visual schedules (which I recommend), utilizing clipart icons can work wonders. For example, if 2nd hour is physical education, then maybe a tennis ball will work well as its correlating icon. Then, if Language Arts is 3rd hour, then a pen or paper icon would work nicely.
Going back to this classroom environment, an autistic child should have a learning environment where they are able to clearly observe and comprehend precisely what is expected of them. Some ideas (and there are many more) include: three-sided work areas to stop surrounding distractions, easily defined student work stations, labels everywhere, etc. Headphones can also be beneficial as part of the classroom materials. If needed, these work extremely well by a child when audio levels become too stressful so they can concentrate on the work before them.
Since many children on the autistic spectrum have a problem with communication processes, it's important to have an augmentative communication system available. The sort of system which works quite nicely is PECS (Picture Exchange Connection System). This type of system is imperative with an autsitic learner, especially if they become stressed or emotional, within the learning environment. If this transpires, having a back up communication system is imperative, for it allows the child to express themselves in a different way, when verbal communication has failed them.
While most children can develop interactive skills by just being in a social environment, a child with autism requires a more direct, one on one approach, when developing such abilities. Once again, visual structuring is helpful in such an occasion. In this manner, a child with autism is able to use pictures, etc. to identify particular emotions, what triggers various inner thoughts, and how to properly behave in the mulititude of social situations. Furthermore, short social interactive stories about emotions may be beneficial. These are available in book and ebook formats.
Essentially the most important components in an autistic student's learning environment is consistency. If an autistic child's daily routine is in step with clear expectations, the child's opportunity to successfully learn increases greatly.
Furthermore, children with autistic tendencies gain greatly from sensory stimulation opportunities. Depending on the child's specific needs, time for movement, opportunities to work with physical objects (i. e. blocks, shapes, gadgets, etc. ), or a tranquil space, is just what an autistic child may need. In addition, a child with autism should have a complete sensory profile done, so that when he or she needs sensory stimulation, it may be implemented appropriately throughout the day.
Regardless of a child's autistic tendencies, every effort should be made to make their educational curriculum as normal and functional as possible. The simple reason is that a majority of children with autism will be capable to live, learn, and become completely functional, independent adults. Such skills that ought to be concentrated upon include: communication, living skills, recreational, and relaxation techniques. While in the traditional school setting, when applicable, an autistic child should try to follow the normal curriculum (i. e. math, English, science, etc. ); nevertheless the aforementioned skills should also be implemented as often as possible. Finally, many young children with autism have very particular interests and strengths. It's imperative for the educator to identify these strengths and permit the child to demonstrate their knowledge in such areas. This can be an enormous confidence and trust builder.