Teaching elementary school can be rewarding. If you are a teacher, odds are that you chose to take up this noble profession with the intent of making a positive difference in the lives of kids. Most likely, you see their success -at least partially- as your own. You want them to thrive and use every tool at your disposal to make sure it happens. However, sometimes it can be difficult to find pedagogical techniques for students with special needs. Autism, specifically, remains a mystery for most schools, which often lack the specialists they need to adequately educate children with this condition. So what can you do, as a one person team? Luckily, there is some literature on the matter and we have gathered and compiled the most useful tips and tactics to help your students with autism succeed in the classroom
6 Ways to Help Your Student with Autism Excel in School
1) The Quiet Corner
As you might already know, there are tons of distractions happening in the classroom at any given time. Pencils hitting the desk, impromptu laughter, chairs rocking back-and-forth, etc. While these might be distracting or annoying to the average student, kids with autism frequently find it difficult to drown out these daily distractions, which could lead to him/her having a meltdown. To prevent this, you can provide them with a place to escape the constant barrage of noise and visual stimulus by providing a quiet corner in a low traffic area of the classroom. The corner should have some sort of furniture to allow the student to rest and calm their sensory system down, as well as some noise-cancelling headphones to accelerate the process.
2) Mom Talk
When it comes to kids with autism, parents are the real experts. After all, they are the ones spending most of their time with them. When one of your students is autistic, it’s a good idea to talk to his/her mother; share your difficulties and let them know that you want to help. Make sure to ask for any assessments that her child might have undergone as these will be very useful in enhancing your understanding of your student’s condition. Also, you shouldn't feel awkward asking this. She will most likely be grateful that you care enough about her child to ask for recommendations.
3) Sensory Tools
Around 9 out of 10 autistic children have difficulties regulating their sensory system. Sensory tools, or fidgets, can help relieve stress and improve focus for autistic children. It allows them to self-regulate their emotions and keep themselves on task when distractions compete for their attention, effectively preventing meltdowns. This works especially well for regulating repetitive behavior – such as repetitive rocking, flinching, or pacing - in the classroom. For example, a fidget spinner could easily replace more distracting behaviors in the classroom while still satisfying that behavioral urge.
4) Extra Breaks
Most schools offer a 5-minute breather between classes to help provide a transition between tasks and recover from the demands of the class environment. However, when you have a student with autism, breaks should be provided on an as-needed basis to allow them to respond to internal cues and take the actions required to regulate themselves, otherwise, he/she may suffer from a meltdown. Breaking up the lecture time like that will make it easier for him/her to focus in class. Kids with autism tend to return to the classroom with a clear head and ready to focus on the task at hand.
5) Daily Outlines
Kids with autism often have trouble transitioning between activities throughout the day. For this reason, it’s helpful to have a daily outline of your class structure, as they perform best when they know how to break up their time between each task. Moreover, incorporating a daily outline in your classes helps maximize the benefit all your students are getting from the lecture, as every second is purposeful and planned out. Want to learn more about daily outlines? Visit https://thecornerstoneforteachers.com/daily-schedule/ for examples, templates, and further explanation of benefits from following a daily class schedule.
6) Type of Learner
Different people have different learning styles; some are visual learners and benefit the most from diagrams, images, videos, etc. Whereas, others are auditory learners and get the most out of recordings, podcasts, and audiobooks. Kids with autism often have trouble with visual and auditory learning styles, which is why it would be beneficial to make use of a wide array of media options. For more information on different pedagogical methods, check out our article on learning styles: https://myboardshare.com/blog/2018/07/25/personalized-learning-pedagogical-strategies-for-each-type-of-student/
These are just a few of the pedagogical techniques for teaching kids with autism. Do you have any others to add? Let us know in the comments. In addition, you can ask us your questions any time on social media.