It is BACK TO SCHOOL time! The start of school is both a time of joy and a time of caution for parents of children with autism as they know the challenges that come with adjusting to changing schedules. For teachers, the start of a new school year brings new opportunities.
The first few weeks of school also brings with it new encounters for students with autism, each of whom bring their unique perspectives to the school day. Teachers in a special education classroom have additional responsibilities beyond that of other classrooms. In addition to individualized teaching needs, many children with autism present other challenges in the areas of behavioral, self care and safety skills.
Success Strategies In The Classroom
One of the most important things to consider first for classroom success, is individualized teaching
methods. Although many of the children in a classroom may be working on the same or a related goal, how they teach that goal should be individualized to the child’s strengths and interests. Teachers can facilitate this by breaking down tasks into smaller learning units, using preferred items (ie. Favorite cartoon characters) as teaching materials or offering incentives (ie. Token economy) that motivate each child well. All of these strategies come from proven techniques typically found in many early childhood or intensive ABA therapy programs.
Teachers can also improve the successes of their children by taking an honest approach to learning
barriers, such as the lack of foundational skills or maladaptive behaviors. Some children may lack the
basic skills needed to successful navigate their classroom independently in the areas of toileting or
hygiene. Therefore, having additional help from items such as a visual schedule to provide those
learning prompts can improve performance.
Maladaptive behaviors can also impede learning in the classroom. As mentioned earlier, breaking down tasks into smaller units can often be a great way to avoid the occurrence of a problem behavior before it even starts. Giving breaks often for on-task behavior or completion of work can also reduce the likelihood of maladaptive behaviors, freeing up more time in the day for additional instruction.
Additional Resources for Teachers:
As always, safety can be a great concern for children with autism. Taking the time to ensure each
classroom and school administration is familiar with safety practices can better protect our students
with autism. For families with a new diagnosis or teachers newer to having students with autism, the
CDC’s Information for Educators can also provide additional information about classroom strategies.
There is also a family and school community resource tool kit that can be helpful for learning more
about how to better support students with autism.