Everyone has unique needs, but young students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) require an extra dose of support and guidance. Whether you are a parent, carer or teacher, it is essential to understand the needs of an autistic child so that you can help them better.
We are here to help our teachers here in Cassidy Education, so we compiled a list of tips to help guide you in your journey as a teacher for SEN. Without further adieu, here are some tips to help you get started:
1. Create and maintain a structured environment – Children with autism are comfortable when they have a routine that they can go through the day with. They will need clear structures with minimal deviations from their schedule. Make sure your lessons are structured in which the students (and the teacher) know what is to be done, how long it should last when it needs to be done and completed, and what comes next.
2. Use visual aids – visuals are an essential element, especially when teaching younger children, particularly those with ASD. Photographs, line drawings, if/then cards can be incorporated into other daily activities while mini-schedules (preferably with pictures) provide structure. Videos deliver information more natural for a child with ASD, so you might get some online to complement your lessons.
3. Communicate better – Communicating is different for a child with ASD, and there are numerous communication techniques used by educators to assist their students. For example, some language centres use sign language for autistic students with low speech skills. Explore other methods of communication to encourage them to communicate with you, and in turn, learn better.
4. Be aware of sensory issues – Children with ASD are either under-sensitive or over-sensitive to many sensory stimuli that the rest of us don’t notice. For instance, they can be easily (and profoundly) bothered by perfumes and other smells, mood lighting, or even the buzzing of electrical appliances. This can lead to extreme reactions that may prevent learning, so be aware of the potential triggers so you can avoid them as much as possible. Provide students with sensory tools (like fidget spinners) to help reduce stress.
5. Make sure activities are structured too – Yes, not just the environment, make sure your activities are structured! Use visuals to provide information to your students, as a pictorial instruction sheet for a new task, in the same manner, that you use them in your lesson plans and schedules. Also, a timer can be used to tell them how long they can work for when an activity is ongoing. Make sure to include opportunities for peer-interaction as well, to practice their social skills.
6. Always encourage social interactions – for them to be independent as an adult, you have to teach children with ASD the knowledge and help them develop the skills for social interaction, both at home and the school. An autistic child may not seem eager to interact with his peers, family, and teachers, but it’s important to teach them social skills. Your classroom is the perfect setting, and the educators should build an environment that encourages the students to be social and practice their skills.
7. Use Direct Language – Young children with ASD often take things literally as they may not be able to understand figurative language or abstract concepts right away. Facial expressions and gestures and other non-verbal cues may not make sense to them at all, so if you are used to teaching children who are not on the spectrum, it can take some time for you to get used to using the right words for what you want to say. Practice being direct as possible.
8. Always give extra time – Even with direct language, an autistic child may not be able to respond right away. It’s still prudent to provide them with additional opportunity to absorb what you said and have them process it at their pace. If you try to rush and hurry the child and rephrase your statements, instructions or questions, you will only slow the process down as they will reprocess your verbal cues again.
9. Avoid or eliminate potential stressors – Children with autism do not react to changes very well, so always use transition warnings, clear instructions, and visual schedules to make them feel comfortable. Still use positive reinforcement in your classroom as well, as it is more efficient than punishments and threats, which can cause anxiety and other behavioural issues. Just focus on creating a positive learning environment, so they feel safe and comfortable at all times.
10. Simple instructions work – When giving instructions, always keep it short and simple. Complicated directions can be confusing for anyone, let alone if you are a child with ASD. Break down your instructions step-by-step and refrain from giving more than two steps at a time. Use short sentences and simple language to allow for each child to process and respond to each level.
Remember, patience is critical when you are teaching children, more so if you are handling children with ASD. With your efforts and practice, you will surely find out what works best for you and your students.