Picture a mother sitting in front of her two year old child asking, “Can you say mama? Say mama?” The child sits unresponsive, uncaringly and even appears to not show any feeling as their parent leads them in socialization. Another scene where a classroom full of Preschool aged children are playing with blocks and toys at a learning center. Three of those children cooperate with each other as they share blocks and push each other’s block creations down. One child sits to the side unaware of all that is going around them and seems disinterested in playing with children their age. This may be normal classroom behavior on one day but imagine this one day turns into every day for the “loner” student. This is the picture that many parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder face. Autism, the word alone can bring up several different ideas about the people who have them as the disorder ranges in severity. It is often noticed in children early on, usually before turning three and it impacts their social and communication skills. This becomes obvious to parents as their children grow and are unable to communicate with them as other children do. Often being unresponsive and never addressing their parents as “mom” or “dad”. Young children with autism often do not seek out others when they are happy, show or point to objects of interest, or call their parents by names (Lord, C. & Cook, E. 2000, 355). Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder often experience difficulty in the classroom. Also, mainstream school teachers may find it difficult to support these children in their classrooms. For the scope of this paper I will discuss children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in classrooms, the difficulties those who teach them face, and techniques for instructing them.
Autism must be approached in a special way in the classroom and all children with these special needs are visible throughout many types of classroom settings in America. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEAS) gives every eligible child the right to a public education and support to make this happen including early intervention services and special education (Autism and the Classroom, 46). It is important that parents become actively involved in a child with Autisms life and make sure their child is provided the appropriate attention each year of their education (as new goals must be regularly set and assessments made). Each child is assessed and an Individual Education Program (IEP) is created to determine the child’s strengths and weaknesses and outline a course of study. This Individual Education Program will be with that child for the entirety of their education and it is an actual document. A parent will sit with qualified staff including teachers, therapists, psychologists, and special education teachers to help craft a quality program and document it into the IEP. Parents will regularly follow up with teachers about the progress of their child and this progress will extend beyond just educational but well into social and emotional development. The plan can be created to bring a child with Autism into a traditional classroom setting or a special education classroom depending on the level of attention, education, and services that would best suite that particular child. For instance, it may be difficult for children who has Autism to understand literal instructions from a teacher in a traditional classroom (Jordan, R., 2004, 115). It may be easier for this student to learn visually using many means of instruction (including visual times tables, visual schedules, etc.). Depending on the amount of attention this child needs it can be determined that the child will be taken into a special needs classroom where they will be given the extra time and attention from instructors in a well-paced classroom environment. On the other hand, it could be determined that the student would do fine in a traditional classroom if only a teacher additionally includes visual aids to help instruct this student. After creating an IEP, assessing the student’s needs, and outlining the best possible instruction model for this child, they can then be incorporated into the school system and provided a quality education with regular goal setting.
Those who teach children with Autism Spectrum Disorder may experience difficulty when teaching. Often this difficulty is due to an unsupportive school system or parents who are not actively involved in their child’s progress. Also, funding for public education can often be the reason why these students do not thrive and teachers may not be able to purchase the necessary tools needed to better assist them. Some of the factors that make it difficult for the child to and teacher in the learning process can include cognitive processing delays, sensory perception issues, social skills deficits, expression, and motor skills challenges. Teachers will need special skills when teaching children with Autism Spectrum Disorder but these skills are not so extravagant that a teacher in a traditional classroom setting cannot juggle them. For the child who is having cognitive processing delays the teacher can allow more time for them to answer and as the child ages be given the opportunity to record their time in classrooms. If a child with autism has issues with sensory perception that makes their school experience difficult like the sound of chalk on the board this can be noted as they are worked through the school system and the teachers will have to be aware of this issue and perhaps use alternatives like a dry erase board. The child should be constantly encouraged and affirmed in areas of social skills, expression, and motor skills. The teacher who has been tasked with the mission to teach a child with ASD must be sympathetic to the child’s condition and understanding. There are intrinsic qualities a person must have to deal with these special children on the many different levels of the spectrum. A teacher must be firm but gentle and able to stick to a strict schedule (Grandin, 2002). In order to better teach a child with Autism the teacher must be aware that they will need to be very serious about maintaining the time, pace, and schedule of the classroom to best serve the child and keep their autistic behavior controlled and only allow them to revert back to that behavior during rest periods. The teacher should keep the child connected to the world (Grandin, 2002).
There are many techniques that can be used in the classroom to better assist students with Autism Spectrum Disorder throughout the spectrum. It is important to understand that children with autism are visual learners and it has been understood that visual learning is their “first language” as they understand the world through language. Visual aids can be employed to make the learning process easier for these students (Teaching students with autism, 1999, 23). Use of Makaton labels, visual times tables, visual schedules including the outline of the day up to the days of the weeks can all help in teaching visual learners. One of the biggest benefits of visual aids is that they can be examined for as long as the child needs them. They key to creating a lesson plan in a classroom with an autistic student is to consider how this lesson plan can be also visual. If we are learning about a story like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” how can I make this both visual and static long enough for the child to take their time and understand the story? A great way for this particular story to be easier for the autistic child is the use of Velcro boards with sets, characters, and props. The teacher can use the book and tell the story while using the Velcro which will remain static throughout the story allowing the autistic child the time they need to visually process the story. Also, the biggest technique for the autistic child is sticking to the rigid schedule to help them to stay structured and connected to their lessons and environment. Also, provide a customized visual daily schedule (Teaching students with autism, 1999, 24). Knowing the individual child and understanding their strengths and weaknesses are key and can further help when giving the child encouragement. Encouraging the child when they are doing things that especially hard for them. A great way to motivate the child is to recognize something that will reinforce their learning (Teaching students with autism, 1999, 25). Maybe the child likes to take walks or play on the piano or even a favorite exercise routine. Finding a reinforcement can help motivate them throughout the day. Note tasks that create frustration and have a relaxation area because at times they may need a place to spend quiet time or letting go of their frustrations. Plan and do tasks that are at appropriate levels of difficulty, use age appropriate materials, provide opportunities for choice, and avoid long streams of verbal information. Creating small and broken down steps can also help when teaching children and going over the steps and problems more than once often makes a difference.
The child who lives with Autism Spectrum Disorder should be planned and prepared for in a special way when bringing them into the classroom. It “takes a village” to make sure all of their needs are being met and an outline must be created in an Individual Education Program. The classroom that best fits for that child should be chosen, whether it is traditional or a special needs classroom, and all the appropriate measures should be taken to insure the child receives a quality education. Often the teacher is left with an overwhelming amount of work and misunderstanding of how to approach a child with autism in their classroom. The task may be difficult but worthwhile and may only take some small adjustments. Like allowing the student more time to examine the visual aids or even allowing them to record classroom sessions. The teacher must be firm and gentle and willing to stick to a schedule within her classroom that the autistic child can rely on. There are also many techniques that can be used to help meet these specific learners’ needs. Some of those techniques span from recognizing what frustrates the child and allowing them quiet time in an area to let out those frustrations or even allowing reinforces throughout the day that will encourage them. The extra care and planning that is brought to these students education can help them build successful futures as working and functioning adults in society. Autistic children are often the brightest and most focused in some of the jobs that have the highest level of analytical difficulty like computer software engineering. They often grow up to become great contributors to society and this is especially true because of the sensitive and special techniques incorporated by their parents, caregivers, and educators.
- Lord, C. & Cook, E., 2000. Autism spectrum disorders. Neuron, 28(2): 355-363. n.a., n.d., Autism and the Classroom. Autism Speaks. 46-55.
- Jordan, R. 2004. Autistic spectrum disorder. Special Teaching for Special Children. 110-
- Grandin, T. 2002. Teaching tips for children and adults with autism. Indiana Resources Center for Autism. n.a. 1999. Teaching students with autism. Saskatchewan Education. 1-77.