With one in every seventy people in Australia now estimated to experience autism spectrum disorder (ASD) it’s common for teachers to encounter this condition in a mainstream classroom.
Unless you’ve had specific training, you may at first be unsure of how to best support your kids on the spectrum.
It’s called the ‘autism spectrum’ because of the wide range of conditions this term encompasses. But, there are some general strategies you can apply to get the best results for your individual kids, no matter which colour on the spectrum they happen to be!
1. Structure and clear expectations are essential
For many on the spectrum, uncertainty creates anxiety. This applies to everything from knowing the daily schedule, to understanding what’s expected in terms of their behaviour. Don’t take for granted that certain things are simply known or assumed. Make everything as clear as possible. For example:
- Have a weekly schedule and stick to it. Keep it written clearly up on a wall, and go through what’s going to happen at the beginning of each day.
- Explain what’s happening as you move through your daily schedule, and announce it before you move from one task to another.
- Be clear about class rules, tasks and expectations. If your children need to put up their hand for questions or hang their bag before class, this needs to be made explicit.
2. Minimise sensory overload triggers
Before the start of the school term, do a walk around in your classroom with your sensory awareness turned right up. Is there a bright or flickering light, or maybe a busy street outside the window? Is there a humming air conditioning unit? Are you wearing perfume?
Kids with autism typically can’t block out sensory information, so you’ll need to create an environment that’s quiet and calm.
3. Get to know what works for each individual child
The autism spectrum actually encompasses several different conditions, including Asperger’s and Rett Syndrome, as well as varying degrees of autism. Make sure you read about the different types so you can learn how to respond to each individual’s needs. For example:
- Some kids on the spectrum hate to be touched, while some love cuddles.
- Those with ‘low level’ autism may not have obvious symptoms but may need individual communication and anxiety management strategies.
- Some kids with Asperger’s need strict structure and every-day repetition of tasks to feel comfortable.
4. Reduce your language and choices to keep it simple
For many on the spectrum, communication can be a huge source of frustration. When people speak using metaphors, sarcasm or non-literal language, this becomes confusing. Here’s how to make it as easy as possible for your kids to communicate with you:
- It’s important to keep your language as clear, simple, and literal as possible. No jokes or allusions.
- For some on the spectrum, it takes a while to process communication. They may take some time to respond to questions or directives. Be patient and repeat yourself if necessary.
- Don’t demand eye contact.
- Present limited choices when giving options for tasks, to avoid confusion.
5. Be patient and give it time
Remember, you’re interacting with a small human that simply perceives the world in a different way, where your rules may not make any sense.
They are often aware of their difference and are constantly trying to ‘keep up’ with the students around them. Much of their daily experience can be anxious or exhausting. Remember that you’re both trying to get somewhere, together, and don’t take anything personally.
With persistence, you’ll achieve some amazing results, and improve the life of another unique human being!
If you want to learn more strategies for teaching kids on the spectrum, you should consider enrolling in the Torrens Graduate Certificate of Education (Autism).
This course is designed for working teachers, with flexible online options. Using our unique ‘Person First’ approach, the course will equip you with the skills you need for lifelong autism support. In just 12 weeks, you can be a qualified Autism Support Teacher and could take a leadership role in autism support in your school.
Find a course