Autism can present a lot of challenges, especially when it comes to a child’s learning. Yes, it’s true that autism doesn’t affect a person’s ability to learn, but it is also true that it changes the way they learn.
You may have heard the saying, “different, not less” which refers to people with autism. That is correct. Children with autism have difficulties learning in the traditional sense because they don’t process information in the same way as most children do.
For instance – visual learning is one of the most common strategies that autistic students prefer as they are visual thinkers (thinking in pictures instead of words). Others are audio learners – learning better through sound – and some learn best with touch (tactile learners). Remembering sequences like numbers, long strings of words and sentences, and multi-step instructions can be a challenge for an autistic child. Also, learning letter sounds (phonics) and differentiating them can be hard, which can affect a child’s experience of learning how to read.
But it is not that difficult. Using simple language, multi-sensory teaching techniques and actively engaging your students in the learning process, teaching students with autism won’t be as daunting as what most people think.
We compiled a list of tips and pointers that will undoubtedly aid in teaching your SEN students.
1. Know your student. First and foremost, you have to get to know your student and make sure you understand their needs, likes and dislikes, his motivations, etc. Learn how the child responds to his environment so you can adapt, and make his surroundings suitable for learning.
2. Use Direct Instruction. Direct Instruction is an approach to teaching that is teacher-directed and skills-oriented. Applying Direct Instruction to your lessons means that as a teacher, you carefully break down cognitive skills into small units, sequence it accordingly and taught explicitly, i.e., the student is told precisely what he needs to know. For example, each lesson should have:
- a review of what was learned
- teaching a new concept
- the practice of the new concept.
3. One at a time. With that, with mean one concept at a time. Teaching like that respects “funnelling” (pouring lots of information in, but the learner’s mind becomes overloaded, so it funnels down to the important points) and helps achieve meaningful learning. When teaching the students their letters, for example, start with phonograms. To make it easier for the teacher and the student, teach the easiest ones to learn and that they can use immediately like A, M, P and S.
4. Have concrete examples. Students with autism usually find it challenging to process abstract ideas, as well as (excessive) verbal content. Providing them with specific examples will surely help them. Colored letter tiles, for example, can help. Demonstrating blending sounds using letter tiles will let children understand the concept without getting overwhelmed by verbal instructions.
5. Multisensory Techniques. Autistic students learn in different ways, so it is essential to use the senses to cater to their needs. Visual learners learn by seeing; auditory learners prefer to listen and hear oral instructions and discuss; hands-on learners are best when they can touch and manipulate objects.
To prepare a multisensory lesson, you have to take account the teaching materials you have to use. Take a simple magnetic whiteboard with movable letters. When learning a letter, say the letter M, saying it out loud, as well as how it sounds is essential for auditory learners. Tracing the letters in sand works for hands-on and visual learners as well.
So there go our top tips for the day. And like any student, remember to reward your student when they master a concept and make sure to say words of encouragement every step of the way because they mean a lot – it boosts confidence and self-esteem in children.
We hope that these five tips will help you manage and improve your lessons. Here at Cassidy Education, we make sure that teachers enjoy their work, and we are here to help and make your life easier, in and out of the classroom.