Tips for Teaching Students With Autism
“It’s impossible to handle her.”
“He’s totally disruptive and creates a ruckus in my class.”
“What an attention seeker!”
“Do you think she should be attending regular school?”
“He can’t sit still, even for a moment.”
“I don’t think he’s capable of learning.”
These are some of the commonly heard frustrations that come with teaching students with autism.
But what if we tried to understand how your student feels? What if we attributed their behavior to a different brain wiring instead of deliberate disruption?
Not abnormal or dysfunctional – just different.
This better explains their hyperactivity, anxiety, and inability to connect with other children. These behaviors are a cry for help — your help.
With the ever-growing population of children with autism, it's so important that all educators are well-versed on their needs.
Here are some tips to help your students with autism thrive in the classroom.
Avoid sensory overload. Many unexpected things can be distracting to students with autism. Fluorescent lights, smells, and noises from other students can make it difficult for students with autism to concentrate. Using cool, calm colors in the classroom can help create a more relaxing atmosphere. Avoid covering the walls with too many posters or other things to look at.
- a. Avoid playing loud background music as it makes it difficult for your student to concentrate.
- Eliminate stress because children with autism quickly pick up on negative emotions.
- Maintain a low and clear voice when engaging the class. Students with autism get easily agitated and confused if a speaking voice is too loud.
- Place the child's desk near the window or try to avoid using fluorescent lights altogether.
- If the lights are unavoidable, use the newest bulbs you have as they flicker less.
- Let students stand instead of sitting around a table for a class demonstration or during morning and evening meetings. Many students with autism tend to rock back and forth so standing allows them to repeat those movements while still listening to the teacher.
Use visuals. Even individuals with autism who can read benefit from visuals. Visuals can serve as reminders about classroom rules, where certain things go, and resources that are available to students. Using pictures and modeling will mean more to students with autism than a lengthy explanation.
Be predictable. Structure or routine is the name of the game when it comes to autism. Maintain the same daily routine, only making exceptions for special occasions. During such moments, place a distinct picture that depicts the day’s events in the child's personal planner. Having predictability in the classroom eases anxiety for students with autism and will help avoid distraction. Students are less worried or curious about what will happen next and can better focus on the work at hand. Give your student a schedule that they can follow. If there are any unpredictable changes, it’s a great teaching moment to model how to handle changes appropriately.
Keep language concrete. Many individuals with autism have trouble understanding figurative language and interpret it in very concrete terms. This may serve as a great opportunity to teach figurative language and hidden meanings in certain terms. Keep verbal instructions short and to the point, because your student may find it difficult to recall the entire sequence. Instead, write the instructions down on a piece of paper. Sometimes, students with autism feel confused by open-ended questions. When possible, try giving your students options if they don’t seem to understand your question.
Exercise Games. Studies show that regular exercise can help alleviate symptoms of autism and improve social skills. Try planning outdoor activities that get your students moving and tie into your lesson plans. You could, for example, play hopscotch to teach kindergarteners how to count or plan a kickball game as a class reward. Once your students come back inside, everyone will have gotten their wiggles out and be ready to work.
Reading Time. Since school can involve so much sensory stimulation, a full day of class can leave students with ASD feeling overwhelmed. Children with autism benefit from quiet breaks throughout the day, so try planning a quiet reading activity as a class to give everyone time to de-stress and work independently. Or if your student with autism is having trouble focusing, ask them if they’d like to spend some time reading in the school library.
Treat students as individuals. I’m sure this goes without saying, but I’m going to say it: It’s so important to model patience, understanding, and respect when working in a classroom with any special learners. Celebrate their success and don’t sweat it if some accommodations don’t conform to what you are used to in the classroom. Keep in mind that some of these recommendations may be super helpful for some students, while others may not need the same degree of consideration. Autism can affect individuals differently.