Each year during World Autism Awareness Day (April 2nd), advocates--and even corporate buildings--wear blue as they pledge to shine a light on autism. Those with available means also donate monetarily.
To say that autism is an important cause would be an understatement.
Today, more than 3.5 million Americans exhibit some type of autistic disorder. In fact, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that autism impacts one in sixty-eight births.
Based on these statistics, it's a given that Pre-K and elementary school teachers will encounter students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in their classrooms.
That said, children exhibiting signs of ASD may go undiagnosed, resulting in confusion for both teacher and student.
Even if teachers know a student has ASD, they may not know the best learning and behavioral strategies for that student. In short, teachers need empowerment strategies--both for themselves and for their ASD students.
What to Do
Here are seven strategies teachers can use to empower themselves and their ASD students:
- Learn about ASD. Not all ASD students have language developmental problems. Asperger students, for example, may speak fluently. Some autistic children will not speak. Many students along the spectrum will exhibit social difficulty and may find it hard to play imaginative games. Learn what to expect by talking to students' parents and doing periodic research about ASD.
- Challenge assumptions. Don't assume that ASD students are incompetent. Instead, focus on each student's capacity to learn.
- Be concrete. Many ASD students won't relate to wordy explanations. Saying "Put pencils down and line up to go to the library" is less confusing than a wordier description.
- Limit choices. If you hand out colored paper before craft time, it's better to offer two or three color choices, not a wide array. Similarly, you can empower ASD students better by asking "would you rather play a literacy game or a math game?" instead of asking them what they want to do next.
- Use structure. Most autistic children need a high level of structure in the classroom, and may act out if the class routine changes abruptly. Assign tasks in sequential order, use short sentences, and warn students before an event ends and another one begins.
- Minimize distractions. ASD students may feel anxious in overly noisy, colorful, and busy environments. Unfortunately, schools are filled with distractions like these. Poll the entire class for ideas on how your classroom can be a calm learning zone whenever possible.
- Be personal. Sometimes, an ASD child may misunderstand directions given to the whole class. After a general announcement, address the ASD pupil separately whenever possible.
Although these are only a few strategies for helping children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, they can be invaluable tools when used by teachers and even other classmates.
Just remember: be patient with yourself, too! Dealing with ASD students can be challenging. But by following even one or two of the above strategies, your teaching experience can feel easier and more productive for you and the whole class.
For more information about ASD, visit AutismSpeaks.org and connect with those in the wider ASD community.
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