Most teachers will tell you that working with a child with autism is a handful, especially when you don’t have the experience and skills to handle and support the student. Children with autism can be disruptive in class. They are easily unravelled and require a lot of attention.
Although the challenges of accommodating children with autism in class are well highlighted, their potential and ability are often overlooked. Children with autism can learn to read at an early age, have exceptional visual thinking and learning and can memorise and grasp information quickly.
With the right environment and support in the classroom, it’s possible to nurture these talents and help children with autism become successful students.
Avoid Sensory Overload
Children with autism are easily distracted by fluorescent lights, smells, and noises, making it difficult for them to concentrate.
One of the ways you can support the child in the class is by using cool, calm colours in the class that help create a more relaxing atmosphere suitable for learning. You should also avoid covering the walls with too many posters or other visual aids. Although autistic children learn best visually, having too many items to look at can overwhelm them.
It might even help to have a centre for the student where they can spend time away from all the possible distractions. The less they have around them, the better their attention and chances of learning.
Use visual learning aids
Autistic children learn best through visual aids. Visuals serve as excellent reminders about classroom rules, and where certain things go. They also make excellent learning resources available to the students.
You can also incorporate modelling and pictures, making it easier for the child to understand a concept instead of a lengthy explanation.
Autistic children get easily unsettled. What might seem normal to other students, like having a substitute teacher, might cause autistic students to be anxious.
Being in a predictable environment where the student knows what to expect next is vital for them. The students are less worried or curious about what happens next and can focus better.
Ensure the students have a schedule they can follow. If there are any unpredictable changes, you can use that as a teaching moment to walk the students through how to handle change appropriately.
Treat the students as individuals
You might have several students with autism. Although their educational requirements are similar, each student is still unique, and it’s essential to treat them as such. Treating every student as an individual also models patience, understanding and respect within the classroom and among the exceptional learners.
Some of the accommodations and recommendations you make may be extremely helpful to some learners and not so much for others. You might need to constantly make adjustments to cater to all the students. Also, take time to celebrate their success and always remember that autism can affect individuals differently, which requires learning and adjusting to the needs of the different children.
Manage changes and transitions
Routines are crucial to the comfort of children with autism. No matter how minor, changes and transitions can be overwhelming for them. Unfortunately, changes are often unavoidable and sometimes necessary, especially in school.
You can alleviate the anxiety of change by preparing the students beforehand. If you’re planning to change classrooms in a week, take the child to view the new class a few days in advance. You can also provide the child with pictures of the class for them to look at until the day of the change. Making the process more predictable makes it less daunting for the child and gives them enough time to adjust.
Autism can impact the child’s ability to communicate and interpret meaning. Because of this, you need to carefully consider the words you use and how you structure your sentences. Avoid complicated words and long, winding sentences or rhetorical questions. Keep the communication direct and straightforward.
If you need to ask an autistic child to tidy up or pick up something, avoid lengthy sentences like “can you start packing up your pencils and tidy them away into drawers please.” Instead, go for a simpler statement like “Put pencils away.” Pointing to where they need to put the pencils can also help in passing the message.
Autistic children can make great students. It takes longer and requires more work, but the process can be rewarding once the student starts responding to your efforts. Although the tips on supporting children with autism in class are simple, it takes patience, resilience, and consistency to implement them.