Children with autism spectrum disorder have unique strengths varying from low learning abilities to exceptional talents. They often develop and learn differently than their neurotypical peers. Their challenges and unique way of learning are critical to their development.
Children with autism spectrum disorder often struggle with the social skills that make life hard for them. They find it difficult to focus in the ever-demanding and overstimulating environment and fail to conceptualize on the bigger platform.
With so many challenges and the need to acquire the essential skills to perform daily life functions, education is a critical factor in children on the autism spectrum. By employing specific autism spectrum targeted teaching strategies, you can optimize learning for autistic children. It will help them reduce the challenges of spectrum symptoms. The classroom strategies for students with autism can enhance their development and encourage them to acquire necessary communication, interpersonal, and social skills by:
- Following structure and routine
- Enhancing learning through the association of positive peer
- Minimizing environmental stimuli
- Promoting a calm, positive, and consistent environment in the classroom ideal for learning
Before we understand the strategies essential for classroom teaching for autistic children let us see the importance of teaching children with ASD and how autism impacts learning.
Read more – Assistive Technology for Autism
Teaching Autistic Students
Whether a teacher or a homeschooling parent, you need skill sets to teach a child with an autism spectrum disorder. You may need to equip yourself with autistic teaching techniques and strategies. These strategies are essential to make the autistic child comfortable in the educational environment.
As per the data available, the rate of autism is steadily increasing. The need for specialized teaching strategies for autistic children is also going up. Autism impacts all socioeconomic groups. There is a need to understand the specific needs of an autistic student. It can make the teaching and learning experience more successful for everyone involved.
A deep understanding of the strategies teachers need to handle autistic students is crucial. They should recognize the value and needs of each student. Classroom teaching should help integrate the autistic child into the mainstream. The teachers should equip autistic students with essential skills and motivation to thrive in challenging situations.
How Autism Impacts Learning
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder where autistic children function on a broader spectrum. The severity and symptoms of autistics vary considerably. Some autistic with mild autism symptoms may communicate relatively well but struggle in social situations. Others may have severe autism symptoms but struggle to verbalize their thoughts. This broad spectrum indicates that the learning will vary according to the individuals and the severity of their disorder.
Children with ASD have a unique of doing things and learning, and they experience the world differently than neurotypical children.
Different factors impact the ability to access the educational curriculum for autistic children. ASD impacts learning in the following ways:
- Children with autism spectrum disorder develop skills in different orders and at different rates than neurotypical children.
- Autism delays language development
- Autistic children do not often engage in shared or joint attention, making language and communication skills challenging.
- Autism makes it difficult to understand how other people’s beliefs can vary from their own.
- Autism makes understanding and predicting the behaviors of others. Autistics often fail to understand how their behavior impacts others.
- Autism impacts focus, attention, memory, organization, emotional control, etc. These skills are critical for learning in class.
- ASD can make it difficult to imagine the broader perspective in real-life situations, stories, or books. Autistic students tend to lose focus due to attention on other irrelevant details.
Autism and Top Classroom Strategies
Teaching an autistic child can be a challenge. They have difficulties adapting to a classroom environment. Students with ASD may require modifying the curriculum to learn and achieve. But if you know the correct strategies, having a student with ASD can also be fulfilling. As a teacher, you should know to maintain their routine, engage in activities that interest them, and should be able to handle sensory overload.
The other students in the class or school should also be aware that autistic students might have different needs and behave differently. Some autistic students possess unique talents. The teacher should highlight them to encourage academic growth in them.
On the autism spectrum, each student possesses unique strengths and challenges. It allows the teachers to help autistic children overcome the challenges of ASD and get the most out of their education.
Let us discuss some practical and effective classroom strategies that can help autistic students in the classroom:
1. Avoid sensory overload
The environment has a lot of impact on the behavior of autistic children. Bright lights, loud sounds, and smells may distract them. The teachers should be aware of the sensory needs and sensitivities of autistic students. You may use curtains, blinds, or special glasses to avoid direct and bright light inside the classrooms. The use of calm colors can help boost the concentration of students with ASD.
Children with autism spectrum disorder have unique ways of learning. The teachers must be aware of the child’s level of understanding. Some autistic children often find it uncomfortable following classroom instructions and might need one-to-one guidance. The teachers should be able to understand the unique needs of autistic children. Teachers should not assume that child understands everything if they do not ask for help.
To enhance understanding, the child may need written instructions or visual aids. The teacher may use visual aids and other tools and minimize verbal instructions. Autistic children need time to process speech, so you should use visual cues to enhance understanding.
3. Use of visuals
Autistic children are visual learners. Using visuals in the classrooms serves as a quick and effective communication tool. Visual strategies with autistic children help the child to understand and facilitate learning. They indicate items and schedules like rules, about things, and resources available. A visual breakdown of the activity can help the child to follow instructions to complete a task.
4. Be predictable
Following an established routine helps autistic students feel safe and secure in the classroom. Any change in the schedule must be communicated and explained to the children. If any unpredictable event happens, use that for teaching to handle unexpected changes appropriately.
5. Use concrete language
Children with ASD often find the figurative language hard to understand. They tend to interpret language in concrete terms. Using clear instructions in the classroom will benefit them and help them learn fast.
6. Communicate clearly
Autistic children have communication deficits. The severity may vary from person to person, but it impacts the child’s ability to communicate and interpret meaning. Therefore, you should carefully consider the language and the words you use with them. You need to structure your sentences to help them understand easily. Do not use metaphors or rhetorical questions. These will confuse them. Communication should be simple and direct with autistic children.
7. Integrate their interests.
Some children with autism spectrum disorder have highly-focused interests. They may have excellent skills in electronics, mathematics, unicorns, history, etc. You can use these interests and skills as gateways to learning.
8. Teach social skills directly
Hidden and masked curriculum ideas for developing social skills may not work well with children with ASD. It may be difficult for children with autism to grasp skills in that way. Teaching social skills directly through modeling and discussing appropriate behavior is effective. It is easy for autistic children to understand in those direct ways.
9. Treat students as individuals
Autism spectrum affects each student differently. Some strategies may work well for some students and not for others. You can focus on the strengths and successes of each student as you model patience and respect in the classroom.
10. Note activities that create frustration
Some activities in the classroom may result in sensory overload for the autistic child. You can take notice of those activities or tasks those results in frustration. You can plan calming sensory experiences with potentially frustrating tasks. In promoting successful participation, you may adapt activities and materials.
Eliminate the environmental distractions and those activities that upset, confuse, disorient the child, and which interfere with learning.
11. Provide relaxation breaks
The long schooling hours can often demotivate and drain the energy of a child with autism. Frequent relaxation time in a calm, quiet, and designated area can be helpful. Relaxation has a calming effect. It is the time when the child can engage in repetitive behaviors if they have cravings for them.
12. Provide opportunities to contact with peers
Students with ASD can also learn social behaviors when in the company of peers with good social skills. You may provide them opportunities to contact peers. You can help autistic children to involve with their peers in the following ways:
involving shared learning arrangements
- pairing with peers when playing games, walking around the campus, and during other unstructured time
- involving peers to provide individualized instructions
- arranging peer support by assigning an older student to help autistic student
- pairing with peers when attending school events like assemblies and clubs
- encouraging participation in after-school or extracurricular activities
You can incorporate the above strategies into the classroom routine to encourage the academic and social development of autistic children. These teaching strategies help students with autism feel comfortable in the classroom and able to access the curriculum in a better way.
Clarity, consistency, and empathy are valuable factors in any teaching environment. These features are crucial when working with students on the autism spectrum. You may adapt the classroom to ensure an optimal learning environment for students on the spectrum. Small changes often result in significant distractions and can make a big difference. Teaching strategies help foster a positive and productive learning experience for teachers and children with autism.
Supporting a child with autism in the classroom is valuable and incredibly fulfilling. Helping autistic children to engage in learning not only makes their educational experience positive and beneficial but also clears the way for a future where they can reach their full potential.