This article was submitted by Amy Hobbs, Training Coordinator for the Autism Society of North Carolina.
The beginning of a new school year can be an exciting and scary time for teachers and students. Regular education teachers with a student with autism in their classrooms for the first time might be left wishing they had more guidance. We hope this article will provide some useful information; if you need more help, please call us at 1-800-442-2762 or go to our website, www.autismsociety-nc.org, to learn more about our training programs.
The first step to a successful school year is autism-specific training that includes a description of characteristics and how to program to meet the student’s unique needs. For example, establishing clear structure and routines throughout the day will help the student understand and accept the expectations of the classroom. Initial collaboration and ongoing communication between special and regular education teachers, speech therapists, parents, psychologists, autism specialists, and other team members will ensure that everyone is using a consistent approach.
Educating the other students in the classroom about differences, diversity, and autism is another important step. The more other students understand what to expect and how to help, the more empowered they will feel and the more likely they will be advocates for the student with autism.
Remember that students with autism typically process information more easily if it is visual, so avoid verbal overload and give students written instructions whenever possible. Post and review a classroom schedule where the student can see it. When giving verbal directions, be clear and to the point, using short sentences. Make sure to focus on the main point you want to convey. Find out the student’s preferred method of communication (talking, typing on the computer, writing, etc.) and make it available. Teach and reinforce skills such as asking for a break and asking for help.
More tips for the successful inclusion of a student with Autism Spectrum Disorder:
- Assign a seat near the teacher’s area for easy monitoring.
- Establish a safe place or time so the student can escape the stimuli of the classroom: a quiet area in the classroom or a 5-10 minute break in the library.
- Prepare students for environmental or routine changes such as substitute teachers, rescheduling, etc. Write the information on the board, on the calendar, in a separate note, and/or in the student’s notebook.
- Be as concrete as possible in all of your interactions. Avoid asking questions such as “Why did you do that?” Focus instead on what you want to happen: “Please put your work in your desk and line up for lunch.”
- Plan instructional routines with clear beginnings and endings; write out the steps.
- Let the student work standing rather than sitting; try a wiggle seat or ball chair.
- Test in small groups or in 1:1 situations.
- Allow more frequent breaks during long seatwork periods, lectures, and tests.
Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder have trouble with organizational skills, regardless of their intelligence and age. Even super bright students might forget to bring a pencil to class, to turn in their homework, or the due date for an assignment. Strategies to help with organizational skills could include:
- Make a place for a pencil to attach on the cover of the child’s notebook. Have extra pencils in the classroom in an easily accessible location.
- Give a list at the end of the day of assignments to be completed at home; double check the list the next morning.
- Have the student fill out an agenda book with deadlines for projects.
- Have a specific folder and place for finished work or work to be turned in.
- Always give praise when the student remembers something they previously forgot.
- Lecturing when they forget will not help but will often cause an increase in anxiety, making the problem worse.
Remember that an accommodation is a strategy that changes how the instructional content or assessment material is delivered and accessed, but it does not change what the student is expected to learn. When a student has a documented disability that affects his or her educational performance, the student’s classroom accommodations are typically indicated on the IEP or 504 Plan. It is important for teachers to be aware of the specific accommodations for their students.
Here are more examples of accommodations to address self-regulation issues:
- Arrange early dismissal from class
- Arrange early entry to cafeteria, before large crowds arrive
- Grant excuse from large assemblies, meetings, etc.
- Provide lunch pass to eat in classroom
- Devise alternative projects to replace oral presentations
- Allow use of cue cards/scripts during presentations
Be familiar with the resources in your school or district, and don’t be afraid to use them. Consult with the team, including parents, when issues arise. And most importantly, establish trust and promote communication with your student.
Amy Hobbs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-236-1547, ext. 1501.Tags: ASNC, autism, autism awareness, autism education, autism society north carolina, autism society of NC, Autism Society of North Carolina, Autism spectrum