Autism actually relates to a spectrum of growth-related disabilities. This means that children with autism are each affected differently. The extent of the symptoms differs from individual to individual. There are some typical symptoms that can help with the diagnosis of autism in children. Autism covers delays in the development of social, communication, behavioral and intellectual skills. The variance of the disabilities in the autism spectrum therefore dictates that each individual child is assessed and the teaching strategy tailored to the specific individual.
Strategies for Teaching Children with Autism
1. Overcome the Communication Struggles
Speech development may be limited and some words may not have any meaning. Some non-verbal cues like nodding or shaking the head may not be easily understood.
- The best way to overcome the verbal communication limitations is to use easy language that is simple and clear. With children who have a better grasp on comprehension, use simple sentences that are very clear with what action you want them to perform. Always be literal in your expression of language.
- Use pictures or symbols or even the real object as visual aids to point at when discussing that object. Using this method will reduce any frustration the child has regarding limited verbal communication skills. The pictures or symbols have to be very simple so that the child does not become distracted by a very complicated or colorful background. Tailor the pictures or visual aids you choose to the individual child and their understanding of the symbols.
- Use a timetable with pictures. Picture timetables breakdown an activity into various achievable steps. A structured day seems to be the best way to get maximum productivity.
- Repeat your instructions a few times and always in the exact same way to prevent misunderstandings.
- Use their first name to address them and focus on what you want them to do rather than what you don't want them to do.
2. Familiarize the Child to a Social Learning Group
Introduce the staff and facilities very gradually in teaching children with autism. If possible, show the child photos of the facilities and arrange to have staff members visit the child in the area he is familiar with, before he attends the new school. For using the toilet in unfamiliar surroundings, create a routine where the child is taken to the toilet 20 minutes after each meal. Keeping a record of all toilet visits will help carers adjust the toilet routine to suit the child's needs. Use the rewards system to achieve and maintain the toilet routine.
3. Get the Child to Eat
There are many obstacles that can be faced during meal-times. This can range from introducing new foods to getting them to sit still during meal times.
- It may be worthwhile to allow a new child in the school to eat by himself until he is used to the presence of other students.
- Create a lunch-time schedule to give the child some consistency and cues of what behavior is acceptable while dining. Introduce new foods only after he is feeling settled into the new surroundings and then make it a very slow, gradual process. Lavish praise for good behaviors.
4. Expect Breakdowns
Breakdowns may occur when the child is feeling frustrated either in expressing himself or if he cannot understand what is expected of him. Pictures can help communicate together with simple and concise language to aid comprehension. Meltdowns can also occur if the child is over-tired, feeling ill, did not eat well, etc. A record of these incidents will help recognize the triggers and can help to avoid them.
5. Tailor the Curriculum
Learning social, emotional and personal skills is essential for group activities. Teaching verbal and non-verbal communication is important in teaching children with autism for interaction with others.
- Reading can be taught by allowing them to watch their favorite TV show with accompanying closed captions. This will allow them to listen and follow the words on the screen at the same time.
- Since autistic children have difficulties with fine motor skills, writing may be an issue. Allow them to type on a keyboard to minimize that frustration.
- Teaching about the world around them will have to be encouraged because the child may not be naturally inquisitive about life around them.
- Teach the child how to be physically safe because he may not sense any danger in certain actions. Some autistic children express no pain or may unintentionally hurt others. Establish simple rules that will keep the child safe and always closely supervise them.
- Educate the child to make links between the past and present lessons he has been taught. This will help with creative development.
- Many children excel at drawing and art–these should be encouraged as a means of expressing themselves.
- Read out stories to them about certain social or behavioral themes upon which they can learn to model their own behavior.
- Singing is a great way to teach interaction with others.
6. Introduce Toys and Playing into Lessons
Most autistic children do not like to try out new toys. Introduce new items slowly in teaching children with autism and allow the child to familiarize themselves with the new toys. Once faced with a choice of familiar toys, the child will most likely choose one and play with it. Some examples of new items to introduce: interactive books, building blocks like Lego, sorting toys, bubbles, trampoline, climbing frames, etc. Some autistic children develop obsessions over certain items like a favorite toy, etc. Establish rules about when he can play with these items or better yet, incorporate the toy in learning about colors or numbers, etc.