“We think in pictures.” That’s what Temple Grandin (a Ph.D. scientist) said about people with autism. She knows something about this as she is living with autism herself. This insight points out why so many of our kids struggle to communicate verbally. Once a child’s comprehension level is understood, there are target ways to approach teaching autistic children. Using flashcards with pictures can be a good start, as is sign language and special communication boards with others.
We tried these methods with Porter and had little luck. In the end, we’ve done best by using simple word statements. So instead of saying, “Go grab your shoes, put them on and we can walk outside,” we will say, “Shoes, outside.” The longer the sentence the more confused he becomes.
Transitions are another focus when teaching autistic children. Porter often became so engrossed in a puzzle he’d place and replace the pieces for hours. We realized that expecting a quick turnaround was unrealistic. Sometimes it helped to talk about it before a change occurred. At other times, visual cues were helpful (pulling out his backpack ten minutes before the bus arrived).
It helps to remember that our kids experience things through their senses differently. Certain fabrics or sounds may be alarming and minimizing. We learned through trial and error to plan for longer transitions, and work to introduce one change at a time. More than anything else, keeping a predictable schedule was useful.
Higher functioning children with ASD often have deep interests in particular subjects. Leveraging these topics for teaching can help to keep the children engaged and deepen complementary skills (reading and writing).
There is no simple game plan for teaching autistic children. The sooner we start, the better the results are. By planning for the differences and partnering with our schools, we can devise educational strategies that play to each child’s strengths.