Welcome to day twenty in the A to Z Challenge on autism. Today’s post is all about teaching autisitc children. This post primarily addresses teachers, but parents and other interested people can learn from it too.
Children with autism often benefit from as structured an educational environment as possible. In fact, many behavioral therapists say you can’t overstructure with an autistic child. I do however feel that a child needs time to unwind too, because many autistic children have short attention spans and sensory needs. An ideal education mixes mostly structured teaching with free time (such as during recess) where a child is allowed to do whatever they want as long as they don’t harm anyone. For example, during a break, a child should be allowed to self-stim or to just stare out the window if they want.
A good education encourages the autistic child to maximize their strengths. Many autistics are good wirh art, while others are good at math or computers. If a child is academically able, they should be taught at an academically enriching school. Unfortunately, due to the way the educational system worked when I was in school, I couldn’t get an academically challenging education and get proper help for my social, sensory and behavioral needs at the same school. This has thankfully changed.
There are many strategies for teaching elementary school children with autism.
- Use the child’s special interests as a way to motivate them for schoolwork. If a school has a theme-based curriculum, or you’re using this as a homeschooling parent, you may be able to get your autistic child motivated for the theme being discussed at the time whether it matches their special interests or not. After all, some autistics (like myself) will fixate on basically anything they can fixate on. If your child only has one special interest, you could use time spent on the special interest as a reward for doing schoolwork and still incorporate the special interest in your teaching.
- For visual learners, it may help to use concrete, visual tools to teach math. My (non-autistic) sister had a pen which she could use to learn multiplication tables and use to scribble and doodle with at the same time.
- Handwriting is often hard for autistic children because of fine motor deficits. Nowadays, handwriting truly isn’t that importnat anymore, so allowing the child to type is recommended.
- Some autistics learn to read best by learning the phonics (traditional teachign method when I was in school), while others learn better by memorizing whole words. Comprehension is often harder for autistic children. You could use cards with a word and picture on them and show the picture/word card while speaking the word at the same time. The picture and word need to be on the same side of the card. This way, the child learns the meaning of words rather than just how to say them.
- For daily schedules, some children do best with visuals, while others do best with words, and still others prefer a combination of the two. Some autistics do not understand line drawings and will need photographs of real objects to understand what you mean.
Taking into account a child’s sensory needs may be hard, particularly in mainstream schools. For example, some children will absorb information much better when they’re stimming, but this is often seen as a distraction. An occupational therapist can advise the school teacher on a sensory diet for the child.