EDUCATION & AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS
Autism Spectrum Disorders such as autism
syndrome cause issues in crucial areas of development:
• Verbal and nonverbal communication
• Social interaction
• Imaginative or creative play
• Sensory processing.
Children on the autism spectrum may have trouble understanding or communicating their
needs to teachers and fellow students. They can have difficulty
understanding some classroom directions and instruction, along with
subtle vocal and facial cues of teachers. Inappropriate social interaction
can lead to challenging
behaviors, bullying, and ostracizing. Difficulties with imaginative
or creative play hamper interactions with other children and mean
that many teaching strategies will not be effective. Sensory
issues mean a student may not cope with noisy environments,
being touched by others, or maintaining eye contact.
This inability to fully decipher the world around
them often makes education stressful for the child, and teachers
often report that they find it difficult to meet the needs of students
on the autism spectrum.
Teachers need to be aware of a student’s disorder,
and ideally should have specific training in autism education, so
that they are able to help the student get the best out of his or
her classroom experiences.
Some basic strategies for the classroom
Some students learn more effectively with visual
aids as they are better able to understand material presented visually.
Because of this, many teachers create “visual schedules” for their
autistic students. This allows students to concretely see what is
going on throughout the day, so they know what to prepare for and
what activity they will be doing next. Some autistic children have
trouble going from one activity to the next, so this visual schedule
can help to reduce stress.
Structure and routine
Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders usually
do not cope with chaotic unpredictable environments. Teachers can
provide support by providing the child with timetables and the steps
Working in pairs
Research has shown that working in pairs may be
beneficial in teaching autistic children. These students have problems
not only with language and communication, but with socialization
as well. By facilitating peer interaction, teachers can help these
students make friends, which in turn can help them cope with problems.
This can help them to become more integrated into the mainstream
environment of the classroom.
Teacher's aide to help autistic students
A teacher’s aide can also be useful to the student.
The aide is able to give more elaborate directions that the teacher
may not have time to explain to the autistic child and can help
the child to stay at a equivalent level to the rest of the class
through the special one-on-one instruction. However, some argue
that students with one-on-one aides may become overly dependent
on the help, thus leading to difficulty with independence later
There are many different techniques that teachers can use to assist
their students. A teacher needs to become familiar with the child’s
disorder to know what will work best with that particular child.
Every child is going to be different and teachers have to be able
to adjust with every one of them.
Reducing anxiety in the classroom
Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders sometimes
have high levels of anxiety and stress, particularly in social environments
like school. If a student exhibits aggressive or explosive behavior,
it is important for educational teams to recognize the impact of
stress and anxiety. Preparing students for new situations, such
as through writing social
stories, can lower anxiety. Teaching social and emotional concepts
using systematic teaching approaches such as The Incredible 5-Point
Scale or other cognitive behavioral strategies can increase a student’s
ability to control excessive behavioral reactions.
Choosing the appropriate school
As with many disabilities, in the past students
on the autism spectrum were kept separate fromn 'normal' children
as much as possible. However, the past few decades have seen a trend
to integrate these students into the regular system as much as possible.
Debate exists on whether this is the best option given the specific
needs of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (Shaddock 2003).
Some teachers in both the specialized and regular education systems
believe that integration into regular schooling is often let down
by inadequate training, support and resources (Danne, Beirne-Smith
& Latham 2000).
The choices of education systems available may
be limited. Parents may live in a country or rural area where nothing
exists other than the regular school system. Parents may opt for
home-based schooling if they have the time, commitment and willingness
to learn all the strategies they will need to teach effectively.
Costs can also be a major factor if specialized schools or support
need to be paid for.
In some cases, a child on the autism spectrum
can be taught partly in both a special education program and the
regular classroom. This is an example of an integration model where
the student has specialized or home-based education but is increasingly
included in regular schools as the child can cope.
These integration models are based on a growing
trend to provide a 'continuum of care' model, where individualized
support tapers off as a child learns the skills needed to study
in regular schools. Ideally, there is a range of specific schools
for autistic students, then special classes in the regular system,
then support in the regular system i.e. teacher's aide, tutoring.
Key elements to successful education
Research into Autism Spectrum Disorders in an
educational context indicates that there are a number of criteria
for appropriate education of children on the autism spectrum (Rose,
Dunlap, Huber & Kincaid 2003):
• Specialized curriculum content
• Classroom support
• Specialized teaching methods
• Coordinated team approach
• Modifiying the environment
• Supports and services for students and families
• Structured learning environments
• Collaboration with home-schooling where required
• Functional approach to problem behaviour
• Involvement of the parents
• Social support and positive attitude by all involved
• Recurrent evaluation of inclusion procedures.
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