The Best Methods for Teaching Students on the Autism Spectrum

"I'm a 4th grade teacher in the Dallas area, and I have two students on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum in my class this school year. What are some of the most important considerations when teaching children with this condition? Thanks in advance!"

The short answer: I would say the use of visual aids and social stories - and go the extra mile to make learning fun.

Children with ASD level 1 or High-Functioning Autism can learn and excel, and if certain teaching methods are used, their progress can be nothing short of fantastic. One of the most important things to realize in making learning fun for these special needs kids is the fact that they learn in different ways than children without this disorder.

Kids on the autism spectrum generally have difficulty with social skills. Sometimes this difficulty involves language skills. However, there are a number of ways to make learning these important skills more than just a chore. By injecting fun into learning, it has been shown that children on the spectrum learn at a faster pace. Of course, fun and learning work well for all types of children, but autistic children are special and require more tailored methods.

Children on the spectrum seem to learn best when the instructional material is presented in visual form. In this case, it might be worthwhile to try different educational programs on the computer. Using a computer is a fun way to learn for these students. 
The majority of educational programs are highly visual. Many of the games available involve story lines, plots, and realistic human behaviors. Some of the skills these young people can learn from carefully selected video games are language skills, reading and math skills, and social skills.

Visual learning devices are highly effective and can be accompanied by various rewards to reinforce what is being learned. For instance, food and extended leisure activities can be used as rewards that will encourage the child to want to learn. In addition, the use of positive reinforcement will help develop a bond between student and teacher, and create a sense of trust that will help strengthen the learning environment.

Social stories are another way to make learning fun for these children. Since one of the aspects of ASD is the inability to interact normally in a social situation, social stories can be utilized in a variety of different ways in order to model appropriate behavior. By using engaging stories, children can learn appropriate and inappropriate responses to situations. The level of fun, of course, is up to the way social stories are used.

Usually, the stories are specifically tailored to the individual child. By modeling situations familiar to the child, he/she can be better prepared to react in a socially appropriate way to those same situations in the future.

Social stories usually have three distinct ways of addressing a particular situation:
  1. The first describes who, what, where and why in relation to the situation.
  2. The second is a perspective sentence that illuminates how others react to the situation being discussed.
  3. Finally, the third sentence tries to model an appropriate response.

Sometimes the use of social stories can be accompanied by music and pictures. In terms of making the process a bit more fun, rewards can be used when a situation is properly addressed.

Children on the spectrum require special education needs to address their social difficulties. It is really important to make these activities as much fun as possible so the student will stay motivated. It is not easy for this child to change his/her response to various situations, so it is imperative that the activities be non-threatening and highly interesting.

It has been demonstrated that, over time, the use of visual aids and social stories are two of the most effective ways to help these students overcome social situations they feel are threatening. To most of us, these situations are normal, everyday occurrences. 
But to children on the spectrum, they can sometimes be terrifying moments that they do not have the skills to deal with. These teaching methods, while entertaining and fun, can help these children adapt and manage their perceptions of social interactions.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD

Parents' COMMENTS:

* Anonymous said... My son has Aspergers and was in public school until the middle of fourth grade. It's so wonderful that you're asking this question! Aspie kids can be a huge challenge, but their insights are amazing and their minds are wired so differently that sometimes all I can think is "wow" because he's so bright and quirky. I think you'll enjoy the child. A few things that we wish his teacher understood:

1. Aspie kids tend to "misunderstand" people's intentions regularly, and can react with a "fight or flight" response. For instance, a child who accidentally bumps them will get bumped or pushed back as if it was intentional. Gestures that may be innocent can be interpreted wrongly because they don't understand them. Be patient, and never assume that a child's response is bullying or may just be that they don't "get it." Aspies can also be "rule oriented", meaning that they get very concerned when others don't follow the rules and may take matters into their own hands. Other possible traits: the need to be "first", black and white thinking, and need for routine.

2. Some Aspie kids don't work well in groups. They have a need to control, and don't see others' opinions as worthwhile because they are "mind-blind" (I think that's the word). Find children that they work best with, and always have one eye on their interactions with others in case things don't go well.

3. All kids with autism have some kind of coping mechanism that they use when under stress. (Things like fire drills, substitute teachers, PE or special school days which are out of the ordinary can trigger tough days.) Understand what this child's mechanisms are. My son used to pull his hood or shirt over his face, or hide in the dark cool bathroom. It was his way of shutting things out until he was back in control of his emotions. Allow the child the space and time he or she needs! Their coping mechanisms are very important for future success. (Or, help teach them coping mechanisms if they don't have son's teacher would make sarcastic comments when he hid in the bathroom or punish him for pulling his shirt over his head, causing him to melt down).

4. Meltdowns are inevitable. Make sure there is a process in place among yourself and other administrators to deal with them: a safe place for the child to go, a plan for calming the child down, and help in case the child flees (which some do). Get the parents' input, and make sure the child understands what happens so they know what to expect (no surprises!).

Finally, most parents are willing to work with you to make sure that the child is well-taken care of and that you can manage your classroom. Get their input and understand if they are protective. Good luck!

•    Anonymous said... Ask his or her parents for their advice & tips on how to recognize stress triggers, and how best to help their child grow & succeed. Bear in mind that many Aspies struggle with social cues, and can be ostracized by their peers when they don't fit the mold. Thank you for your sensitivity, from an Aspie mom

•    Anonymous said... Don't negotiate with them… have rules already in place

•    Anonymous said... Find out what his likes are and what stresses him out ie loud sounds or music... reward him with his likes ie specific toys or books. Have a calm down area. For my son who is 7, his teachers have a pencil box filled with his 'goodies' stickers, dinosaur figures, etc. They reward him for staying on task or finishing a task. The Five Star system and token economy system works wonders. I hope you have great support from the parents, ESE, and therapists. You all are an important team. Communication is key within all team members.

•    Anonymous said... get to know what sets them off their little quirks their likes and dislikes lots of prewarning routine and consistency an ea a snoezelen room helps. Noise cancelling head phones if that is an issue. Have ot involved sometimes weight vests help. Listen to the parents

•    Anonymous said... Have patients, have patients, and don't be in a hurry with this child. At times it will be ruff, but know that your willingness to accept him for who he is and treat him as such will be the best advice I can give you. Do not let your frustrations get the best of you because this child is not doing everything like the others, but do have extra help within the room. I would contact your schools Autism Specialist (or county), they are the biggest helps for knowing how to teach a child with ASD.

•    Anonymous said... I am certain that the parents will be thrilled if you offer to spend an hour or two, maybe three times this summer, to meet the child at his/her home. Let the child show you what is important to him, let him get to know you on his turf. Watch how the parents interact, when they speak, how they let him process, etc. He will be so much more at ease when school starts...and so will you.

•    Anonymous said... I must say, on behalf of all parents, THANK YOU for taking the time to care enough to ask that question

•    Anonymous said... I, like many parents who have written, are so thankful that you are taking the time to ask, to care, to learn about our special kids. By even asking the question you've already helped the student.

•    Anonymous said... It makes me realy happy to hear a teacher asking this question, it's a pity more do'nt. Thankyou so much . From an Aspie parent. x

•    Anonymous said... My child's teachers have read a boo called "Aspergers's & the ELementary Experience." They have commented that they found it helpful.

•    Anonymous said... My sons teacher had him go into the classroom a few times before school started, and contacted his therapist and case manager to see what things help/irritate him. I want to thank you for taking the time out to look into this!

•    Anonymous said... My sons teacher would allow him to stand up if he needed to as we'll as take his shoes off (he has sensory issues and this helped him concentrate). My son has some terets tics and she would explain to the other kids that everyone is different and that's alright when kids started staring. She kept in close contact with myself and my husband. My son couldn't go to recess because it was not pleasant for him so he would stay inside and work with a counseling on the computer or just play UNO with her. Please please send notes home prior to any drills you may have (fire, tornadoes, intruder, etc). It will allow the parents to prepare him for the drills so there is less of a chance he will get scared when it happens. Most importantly just be very attentive to the student and always be patient. Thank you for askin because I wish my sons teachers had bothered to ask prior to him getting into 3rd grade.

•    Anonymous said... patience and love

•    Anonymous said... Patience and thinking outside the box. Sometimes the simplest solutions go the furthest distance. Ie my son couldn't remember his spelling list and homework sheet. He had a long term sub who gave me the sheets for the rest of the year. He was still to try to remember, but if he didn't, I had it and we weren't texting around asking for spelling lists. Another example: my son prefers nonfiction. He was allowed to check out a fiction and nonfiction book to test on. Simple, but meaningful solutions. I would also ask the child about where he prefers to sit. My son likes to sit facing the wall to illuminate distractions. There are lots of books about teaching special needs kids in the mainstream classroom...

•    Anonymous said... Thank you to this teacher!!!

•    Anonymous said... treat the child like a person and nurture him, accept him and encourage aspergers child is graduated and starting college in fall..if only everyone had his best interest in mind like i did it would have been lots easier..don't give up on the child..

•    Anonymous said... what an awesome teacher you are! just for asking.

•    Anonymous said... You can start out on the right foot by changing your mind set for the positive. Asperger's is not a disorder it is a difference. Children with Asperger's Syndrome are typically quite smart. I hope you are able to foster a culture of respect in your class so that the other students appreciate the challenges this student faces every day.

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