Tag Archives: Math

Teaching Autistic Children #AtoZChallenge

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.


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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Father’s Day

This Sunday is father’s day. In our family, we haven’t celebrated it since I was in elementary school and making little gifts for my father there. This is in a way good, because it is hard to think of gifts he’d appreciate – usually, when he needs something, he buys it himself. I remember one day in like 2006 or 2007 having a bad argument with my father over what I’d give him for his birthday. He was sure I’d buy him a pen or some other cheap excuse for a gift, and when I said I’d bought a reasonably-priced gift the year before, it wasn’t about the price but about knowing what he’d appreciate getting. I can now say I’ve sort of made up for this lack of consideration, because two gifts I gave him for his birthdays in I think 2011 and 2012 are still part of his reference library when discussing the area my parents live in.

My father was the one to insist most on socially appropriate behavior, in his own Aspie style. He could teach me in a kind of harsh way, but at least I learned basic social skills. He was the homemaker when I grew up. Besides, he was on my level intellectually, so, unlike I did with my mother, I didn’t outperform him verbally.

My father taught me to speak. He often told the story of how I’d touch his lips when we were riding the Rotterdam subway, and learned to speak that way. He also taught me my first academics. If my mother counted to four, I’d finish her sentence with a nursery rhyme. If my father counted to four, I’d finish off with “five”. To my mother’s credit, she was the one who taught me to read. At least, she was the one who made little books for me using huge rub-on letters.

My father taught me math. I remember learning squares and squareroots using little square shapes. I taught an acquaitnance’s fifteen-year-old daughter when I was around eight. My father also taught me geography. When I was around eight, we’d sit in the living room, map on our lap, and he’d teach me about various places.

When I got older, entering secondary school, my father seemed to push me the hardest. I recently found out that my parents had always agreed on my schooling, but it appeared that my father was the one insisting most on my reaching my academic potential. About half a year after I entered secondary school, my father took a job there (fortunately not as a teacher). It was good to have my father support me, for example when I wanted to participate in debating contests. It was sometimes tough, because he was in easy reach when I’d exhibit one of my quirky behaviors.

When I decided to postpone going to university for first one year and then two, my father was the one who was most disappointed, or at least, showed it the most. My father was the one essentially kicking me out of the house when I informed my parents about the second delay. This was, he said later, because I was verbally attacking my mother. My mother was the more emotionally expressive and manipulative parent, while my father was the more rigid, rational one. I inherited a little of both.

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