I have a child with autism in my class this year. How do I best support them?
Teaching a child with autism can be both rewarding and challenging at times. If this is your first time teaching a person with autism, it can feel overwhelming knowing what to do or understand what makes that child tick. Luckily, there are lots of resources out there to educate and guide teachers to help make a child’s school experience a good one.
It is important to understand that an educator’s role is to guide the child and not try to change who that child is. None of us can predict the future outcomes for a child or what they may achieve later in life. Good teaching fosters growth and development, paving the way for a child to reach their full potential.
Develop a Relationship with the Family
Parents know their children best and can be your greatest source of information.
- Work collaboratively with parents. Come up with creative solutions to problems or ideas to further the child’s development.
- Develop a system for regular home/school communication that works best for both parents and teachers. Will that be through e-mails, phone or a communication book?
- Get to know the family situation (i.e. single parent, other siblings, language barriers, cultural differences)
- Ask for parental input on the IEP. What are some goals that you both share for the child?
- As much as possible, use similar materials, routines and language between home and school. If the child uses real photos for schedules at home, use photos for school schedules too.
- When meeting with parents, try and talk about the child’s strengths rather than focusing on the weaknesses.
Build a Relationship with the Student
Challenging behavior can occur when there is no trust, respect, or understanding. Relationship building is the cornerstone of what we do in the Low Arousal Approach to reduce challenging behavior. When a child feels valued, they will give you their best. When things go wrong in a trusting relationship, you can recover and move on.
- Respect the child for who he/she is. They are more than just a label.
- Understand their diagnosis. You Tube can be a great resource to find short videos explaining aspects of autism.
- Standardized tests are not an true indication of what student can do. Explore beyond reading the cumulate file. When I was a teacher, I never read those files until after I had time to interact with the student.
- Presume competence.
- Care about the child’s happiness and well-being. Everything else falls into place when the child is happy and secure.
- Recognize small steps in a child’s progress.
- Foster inclusion by creating meaningful connections and interactions with classmates.
Understand the Diagnosis
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) covers a broad spectrum. The saying goes, if you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism. ASD is a neurological disorder, which is important to know because much of what is exhibited is due to this neurology.
- Use a consistent communication system (PECS, photos with text, visual schedules). Verbal children will need these supports as well.
- Stabilize the child first before teaching begins. This can take up to 6 weeks, but it is time well spent. Make sure the child is regulated, know the sensory profile, have a stress plan, and allow for regular body breaks.
- Develop relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, or deep pressure to alleviate stress and anxiety.
- Understand the role that anxiety has in regards to behavior and how it can affect a child’s well being.
The curriculum may have to be modified for students with autism or changed altogether to make achievable goals. The prime goal is to make the curriculum meaningful and accessible to a child with autism. This can require a lot of thought in the inclusive classroom. Some points to consider:
- Expand on a child’s interest. For example, a love of dinosaurs can lead to the study of fossils, other life forms at the time of dinosaurs and eras such as the Jurassic or Precambrian era.
- Provide opportunities to apply learning to real life.
- Allow a lot of time for practice until critical mass is achieved.
- Use technology to enhance learning.
- Use supports that make the day more accessible for the child. (Noise cancelling headphones, use of a computer rather than pen to paper).
- Teach skills like self-regulation and mindfulness.
- Keep learning concrete rather than abstract.
- Follow the LILA principal which I’ve written about before.
- Schedule down time during the day but make it meaningful if possible. Listen to classical music, meditate, work on an on-going scrapbooking project.
The Consummate Professional
Learning is on-going and lifelong. It is important to keep acquiring new knowledge and shedding those notions that are no longer working.
- Take part in professional trainings and keep up with the latest developments.
- Follow best practices, always keeping in mind what is best for the child.
- Access additional resources like conferences, webinars, and consult other professionals.
- Monitor, take data, record observations, and document so good notes are always available for any questions/concerns that arise.
- Know how to report an incident without harming the child’s reputation or damaging the relationship with the family.
- Involve the appropriate people when you need support or aren’t sure of the situation.
Over the years, my children have had some fantastic teachers who did many of these things which made all the difference to my children thriving at school. During my teaching career, I also had the privilege of working alongside educators who were knowledgeable and passionate about teaching and supporting students with special needs. It does take a village to do things right. The school community plays a big role in a child’s life. If everyone works together, the outcome is a strong one. Education is the springboard for lifelong learning and enjoyment.
Have a great school year!
Editorial Policy: Autism Awareness Centre believes that education is the key to success in assisting individuals who have autism and related disorders. Autism Awareness Centre’s mission is to ensure our extensive autism resource selection features the newest titles available in North America. Note that the information contained on this web site should not be used as a substitute for medical care and advice.