When you first receive the news that your child is on the autism spectrum, it can seem like a million different thoughts run through your mind at the same time. If you’re anything like me, one of the first and most persistent worries is how your child will learn. The good news is that he or she definitely can learn. However, the strategies for teaching autistic children may look much different than they do for a child with typical development.
The First Rule of Autism: Remember That Every Child is an Individual
One-size-fits-all teaching doesn’t work for kids who aren’t on the spectrum, much less those who are. Before you attempt to teach your child anything or find the perfect preschool, grade school, in-home tutor, or other form of education, take a step back and remember that every child responds differently to teaching methods. If you find that something doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to scrap it and start over.
Success in teaching autistic children starts with the instructor having the right attitude. Whether it’s you or another teacher, it’s important to approach the teaching process with the idea that your son or daughter is competent and capable of learning. It’s more of a question of teaching information in a way your child can best absorb it. This means avoiding long lectures and breaking the material into small steps.
As you might or might not know, autistic children often have difficulty processing spoken sequences. One way to overcome this challenge is to write the instructions as well as speak them for children who can read. Those who are not yet reading can absorb new information faster when their teacher includes pictures to help reinforce the spoken word. Closed captioning on television can be beneficial, even if your child doesn’t read yet. He or she will start associating written words with spoken ones. Readers will have an additional prompt to help process spoken words.
Social, Behavioral, and Sensory Issues
One of the most difficult things about teaching autistic children is that they tend to fixate on narrow interests and can have unpredictable behavior and sensory issues. The special interest can become part of the curriculum, such as using a toy car to drive from one state to the next on a map to teach geography. As for social cues, these just don’t come naturally to children on the autism spectrum. You or another teacher will need to teach social expectations directly, such as waiting for a turn to speak rather than interrupt the person currently talking. Role playing and reading simple books about social situations can help.
It will also take time to predict what could cause a sensory overload in an autistic child. Since they don’t respond well to disorder, anyone teaching autistic children should set up the learning space according to the activity taking place. For example, one corner can be for dress-up, another for reading, and another for working on math problems. Neurotypical children should be taught about self-stimulatory behavior from the child with autism. As long as he or she doesn’t cause harm to self or others, teachers and other students need to understand that this release is necessary.
These are just some basic strategies to teach autistic children. Feel free to comment with what has and hasn’t worked for your family.