There are many challenging aspects of being in the classroom. One of those challenges is knowing and understanding various disabilities that students may have and knowing effective strategies for teaching each of those students. Autism could be one of the most complicated of those disabilities because it manifests itself so differently in each student. This article will in nowise cover all the information that is available about autism, but it is meant as a brief introduction to some effective strategies for assisting students with autism.
The first question to answer is, “What is autism?” Autism is a developmental disorder that is characterized by impairment to form normal social relationships and to communicate with others. Autism can affect language, measured intelligence, rate of development, and responses to people, events, and objects. Autism affects each person differently and its characteristics can fall anywhere on a spectrum that ranges from mild to severe. Students with autism may not communicate or socialize in typical ways.
Common signs of autism:
- Insistence on sameness; has a hard time dealing with change.
- Laughing (and/or crying) for no apparent reason; showing distress for reasons not apparent to others
- Preference to being alone; aloof manner
- Difficulty in mixing with others
- Little or no eye contact
- Unresponsive to normal teaching methods
- Spinning objects
- Obsessive attachment to objects
- Apparent over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to pain
- Noticeable physical over-activity or extreme under-activity
- Uneven gross/fine motor skills
- Body rocking, head banging, unusual and repetitive hand movements, uncommon posturing, or repeated speech.
- Preoccupied with objects or items that seem unimportant.
- May not communicate or socialize in typical ways.
Teaching suggestions to help students with autism:
- Give specific instructions.
- Start sentences with student’s name so student knows you are addressing him/her.
- Keep classroom structured.
- Because students with autism are resistant to change, it will be difficult for them to adjust to a substitute teacher. Help students adjust by keeping things as consistent as possible.
- Provide positive consequences for acceptable behavior. (You can’t do this enough!!)
- Keep classroom activities as regular and predictable as possible.
By understanding a little more about autism and mastering a few helpful techniques, teaching students with autism can be a little easier for you, therefore making the day more rewarding for you and the students.
**Information adapted from the Substitute Teacher Handbook and Autism Society of America.