Education is evolving. Schools are changing for the better. More inclusive educational opportunities for children from all walks of life are available and easily accessible today. With the diagnosis of autism on the rise (thanks to improved screening and testing infrastructure across the country), there are more and more autistic children in the classroom today.
Since autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects the child’s social and communication skills, the school can be particularly challenging for them. As their teacher, you can ensure that your students are well-equipped to deal with these challenges and that their learning experiences at school are not negatively impacted. We have put together a list of ten ways in which teachers can help autistic children in the classroom achieve their full potential.
- Prevent sensory overload
A typical classroom environment can prove to be overly stimulating for children with autism. Brightly colored flyers on the notice board, various kinds of noises, and fluorescent lights can cause a sensory overload for them. This can be prevented by using cool and calm colors to decorate the classroom. If possible, create a separate space for them to spend some time away from any possible sensory stimulation. Some schools have started providing sensory rooms for children with special needs.
- Use visual cues
Visual cues with a few easy-to-follow steps can help them understand and remember things like classroom rules. This method can come in especially handy for autistic children that find verbal instructions difficult to follow. You can also make flashcards to help them remember their lessons. Another way of using visual cues can be modeling the appropriate behavior with the help of another student instead of providing them with lengthy directions.
- Structure is everything
Children with ASD find comfort in their routines. Establishing a routine that works for them and creating a predictable and structured environment can reduce their anxiety to a great extent. Sit with them to create a timetable that plans their day to the T – something that they can follow independently if needed. When they know what to expect, it is easier for them to focus on the task at hand.
- Give clear and concise instructions
Autism affects every child differently. While some autistic children might be able to understand and follow slightly complicated instructions, it is best to keep them simple and concise. You should also carefully consider your choice of words and sentence structure while talking to students with special needs. Avoid the usage of rhetoric questions, abstract concepts, metaphors, and idioms.
- Consult the primary caregiver
To be able to fully support the autistic children in the classroom, you must work in tandem with their parents/caregivers. Ask them about the kind of interventions that have worked for their child in the past and try to incorporate them in the classroom. Building a relationship with the parents and caregivers will build a foundation of trust which is beneficial not just for you but also for the child.
- Support through changes and transition
Since a predictable routine is so crucial for them, teachers with autistic children in the classroom must support them through changes and transition. Giving them ample notice to prepare them for the impending change can make the transition less daunting for them. Sometimes the changes are too sudden, and it is not possible to prepare them beforehand. Teachers can use these instances to model the appropriate reactions to sudden changes.
- Include their interests
Children with autism have an astonishing ability to develop highly focused interests. It can be math, computers, trains, electronics, wildlife – anything. As a teacher, you can use these interests to better engage them in the classroom. It can make a significant difference to their learning experience. All you need is some creativity and proactive lesson planning at your end.
- Teach them social skills
Autistic children often struggle with social interactions and do not pick up on subtle social cues. A classroom is a perfect place to instill in them some direct social and communication skills. Encourage them to interact with other students and explain appropriate social behavior to them with the help of modeling and/or direct verbal and visual instructions.
- Sensitise other students
It is important to create an environment that is free from judgment and bullying for autistic children to be able to thrive. Sensitising the other students about the condition, explaining to them how their autistic classmate is different, and yet a child just like them can be a gamechanger. It can help in creating an inclusive learning environment where students can help each other learn and grow together.
- Be patient
Even after doing everything in your power to make the classroom a safe space for your autistic student, there are going to be days with meltdowns and tantrums. On such days, it is important to remind yourselves that winning their trust and building a relationship with them will take time. It is not something that will happen overnight, and you will have to put in constant efforts into achieving it. Be patient and build your own resilience to bounce back from difficult days with renewed fervor.
While sometimes daunting, teaching an autistic child is one of the most rewarding experiences that an educator can have. As a teacher, you can help them realize their true potential and pave the way towards an independent and well-adjusted life as an adult for them.