Tips for Teaching Students With Autism
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
According to the Autism Society website:
“Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability; signs typically appear during early childhood and affect a person’s ability to communicate, and interact with others. . . . Some of the behaviors associated with autism include delayed learning of language; difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation; difficulty with executive functioning, which relates to reasoning and planning; narrow, intense interests; poor motor skills’ and sensory sensitivities.”
You can learn more about autism as and the resources available around the country by visiting the Autism Society of America website.
For the past two years, I have been teaching in an inclusion classroom. I am the general education teacher, and I partner with my co-special education teacher, Sue Grass. If anyone were to walk into the classroom, on the surface, it would appear to be like any other classroom, full of activity with students working with each other. At first glance, no one would think that this is an inclusion class because of how the instruction is differentiated for the students. This is not to say that problems do not arise, they do. But we work through them.
Recently I was approached by one of my colleagues, Cara Holzer, to assist with autism awareness at my school during the month of April. I was very honest. Of course I would love to help, but I did not know much about autism and would need to do some research. Cara suggested that I speak with one of our colleagues, Barbara Kalimanis, who teaches autistic children at our school. I was hesitant at first, but Cara assured me that Barbara would be more than willing to give me an insider’s view on the topic. That, as it turns out, was an understatement. Barbara was truly excited to show me her classroom and talk about what it is like to teach students with autism.
My Visit to an Autistic Classroom
I did not want to be a distraction or interrupt the routine of the classroom, so I waited until the end of the day to visit. Walking into Barbara's classroom, the first thing you notice is the color. There are bright colors everywhere. Barbara gave me a moment to just take in everything in her room. Everything is labeled and easy to find. Not only did I notice color, I also noticed the visual aids that are placed around the room. Every visual aid, whether it is on the wall, the board, the door, or the cabinet has a place — a purpose. It is apparent that the instruction takes place on an ongoing basis. She mentioned that instruction is constant and, just as in a general education classroom, you need to be prepared for those teachable moments. No moment is wasted. Most of the instruction takes place with center activities and games. Learning is supported and reinforced by using all or the majority of the senses: sound, sight, touch, and sometimes smell and taste.
Not only were bright colors evident in her room, textures were apparent as well. From the stuffed animals to read with or the pillows to cuddle up to, from the manipulatives to reinforce a concept taught, this room just screamed, “I want you to learn all that you can!”
Students use this area to get comfortable to either hear a read-aloud, or to take a book for themselves to enjoy!
Math and art center materials can be used in different areas around the classroom.
Color Coding in Action
Students know that when the sign is red or "closed," the computer is unavailable.
This computer is available for a student to use. Students are very familiar with the red and green signal.
Students keep track with how their day is going. Everyone wants to be on the green at the end of the day.
Be patient with the students.
Be direct, concrete, and to the point — too many directions are confusing!
Maintain routine and structure as predictable routines promote success.
Have expectations and modify lessons so that the students are exposed to grade level material.
Pearls of Wisdom — Try out Barbara's tips with a student who is struggling in your class. Her tips could be used for general education students too.
Thank you Barbara for welcoming me into your classroom and being patient with all of my questions. It was very enlightening.
Extra bonus: Read-alouds That Deal With the Subject of Autism:
Rules by Cynthia Lord
Ian's Walk: A Story about Autism by Laurie Lears (picture book)
Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin
My Brother Charlie by Denene Millner, Holly Robinson Peete, and Ryan Elizabeth Peete (picture book)
For great practical tips on teaching students with autism, please also check out fellow blogger, Brian Smith's post Connect. Expect. Reflect. Strategies for Teaching Students With Autism. Remember April is National Autism Awareness Month! I love sharing ideas that make all of our lives easier!