A number of different and effective techniques can be utilized when teaching kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Whilst it should always be remembered that not every student is the same, there is no need for a teacher to develop new techniques on how to teach autistic kids whenever there is a new student. Not every student is the same and most would require individual attention but the general approach should always be the same. Kids on the Autism Spectrum Disorder still require personalized instructions and care for the best possible outcomes. Various strategies and techniques may be used to create a highly conducive learning environment for special needs kids:
- Create a structured environment
- Use visual supports
- Avoid sensory overload
- Keep instructions simple
- Use simple and direct language
- Eliminate stress
- Give them extra time
- Treat them as individuals
Create A Structured Environment
Autistic kids feel most comfortable when they have a clearly structured routine to follow. Avoid any disruptions to their schedule and if a disruption should occur, this deviation should be done at a minimum. A highly visual structured environment should be created that promotes an understanding of schedules, activities and expectations. The physical layout of the classroom is an important consideration. Many autistic students have organizational problems, not knowing where to be or the best route to get there. They will not often understand directions or rules. Structuring the environment will give them visual clues to make them understand and not to get distracted. Lesson plans should be structured in a way that tells students what is to be done, for how long, when it needs to be done and what happens after the task is completed.
Use Visual Supports
Visuals supports are an important tool to teach children, especially children with autism. Visuals supports can serve as reminders about classroom rules and where things go. Visuals supports will mean more to students than lengthy explanations. Visual supports can be photographs, drawings, objects, written words or lists. Research has shown that visual supports are good communication tools. Visual supports are used with autistic kids for two primary reasons. They help parents communicate better with their child and they help their children communicate better with others.
Avoid Sensory Overload
Autistic individuals are often highly sensitive to their environments. They generally have unusually delicate sensory systems that can easily be overloaded. It is extremely difficult for people with autism to just ignore sensory information as they start to receive it. Students with autism may become distracted by unexpected things. The flickering of fluorescent lights, smell of foods, smell of cleaning supplies or other scents, noise and sounds from other students. Avoid too many distracting posters on the walls and use calming colors for the walls.
Keep Instructions Simple
Lengthy, complicated directions can be difficult for all students to understand, especially students with autism. Since communication does seem to be difficult for students with autism, educators should make instructions simple. Many struggle with processing oral language so instructions should be broken down into various steps and then given to the students in smaller doses. Breaking down instructions into steps will help the students understand what they are expected to do and prevent then from feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes it may be necessary for educators to repeat instructions, but the instructions need to be short and identical each time it is repeated. Saying things in a different way will just create confusion. Make sure you are using short sentences and clear and concise language.
Use Simple Direct language
Use simple and direct language when communicating with students on the spectrum and avoid abstract and figurative language. Avoid long sentences, idioms and figures of speech that could confuse the students. Use literal language and avoid gestures and facial expressions that may be unfamiliar to them.
Autistic children do not react well to disruptions and changes to their routines, so give them adequate warnings and gentle reminders and clear instructions to ease discomfort. Positive reinforcement is far more effective than chastisement and threats of punishment which are likely to cause anxiety. Just like all children, autistic children need proper guidance and honest feedback when they are doing their tasks. Whether feedback is positive or negative it should be delivered in a gentle tone of voice. Being angry or loud will obfuscate what you intended to say.
Give Them Extra Time
Patience is essential when trying to communicate with an autistic child. If you try to hurry the child and rephrase instructions you will only cause more confusion. Even if your instructions are clear and direct it may take the child some time to process the information. Give him time to work at his own pace.
Treat them as Individuals
There are a range of levels of autism that a child may have and some students may display symptoms that are less severe than others. It is important to display patience, understanding and respect in class and see the students as individuals with individual needs. Students may display different symptoms. Some children may be able to speak with little trouble, while others may struggle to develop spoken language. Do not use a one size fits all approach to teaching autistic kids.
Some Days Will Be Different
When working in a class with special needs kids there may be days that are very different from what you are used too. Patience, respect, understanding and empathy are important traits to always have and don’t be too bothered when some days just do not conform to what is expected. Please keep in mind that some of these recommendations may work with some students and others may not need as much attention and assistance as others. There are varying degrees of autism and individuals can be affected differently.