When the child has an autism spectrum disorder, the school environment can be difficult and challenging for them. Autism in the classroom is something that is hard for teachers, parents, the child with the autism and other children in the class to deal with.
All children on the spectrum have problems understanding the world around them. Due to those problems, the class becomes unbearable for children who perceive the class as uncomfortable.
A good class teacher who can communicate well with the student with autism who has many difficulties should help the child in order to integrate with other children by making it easier to learn. It is very important for teachers to pay attention to some important points, both for the other students, for the child with autism and for the general situation of the class.
“I have a student with autism in my class. I am having a lot of trouble. Most of all, I am afraid he will hurt his friends. He gets up and starts kicking his friends. What he wants is supposed to happen at that moment, for example, he wants the person next to him to move to another line, he does not want to line up or so on. In such cases, I have to do what he wants. Or he is losing it, slamming the door and leaving the classroom. I want to have communication and reach the student very much, but I face problems that I have not solved. What should I do? Am I hurting him when I want to be beneficial to him?” says a class teacher who has a student with autism in her class.
The family should inform the teacher about any sensory problems that the student with autism may experience in the classroom. The teacher should help the child with these problems. Students with autism are often uncomfortable with shuffling. In this context, the teacher should advise other students by telling them to remain calm.
Informing other children about autism just before starting school can help both them and the child with autism prepare for this situation more easily. For example, a child with autism who is disturbed by sunlight can be placed where light is least absorbed and others would be okay with it.
A child diagnosed with autism cannot give appropriate social responses. This negatively affects the child’s playing with his/her classmates and making friends. At this point, the teacher should educate the child with autism with social clues. The classmates are also asked to help the child with autism by talking to them.
A book on autism can be read to classmates to fully explain autism spectrum disorder. Children can be asked to do research by watching a video on this subject. However, it should be remembered that these should not be done while the student with autism is nearby. Teachers should be very sensitive about this issue. Because, although children with autism may not seem to understand many things, they may become aware of certain situations.
Children with autism generally cannot express themselves. It is important to get help from the photos so that they can recognize all the people who can help meet their needs during school hours. If the student with autism cannot express himself/herself when he/she is overwhelmed or stressed, help can be obtained from signs or situation pictures. This method can be applied in special cases, although the priority is verbal communication.
Families who have children with autism and other families should be brought together in order to raise awareness about this issue in order to solve the problems that may be experienced with the parents of other students from the beginning and to minimize the negative behaviors of the parents. Because of the fact that families have a very important role in education.
In terms of socializing and communication, they experience challenges. These challenges can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression. They experience those feelings in higher levels than normally developed children do. It is a fact that up to 72% of students on the autism spectrum have additional mental health needs. Also, being able to interact, socializing, and communicating with others in the classroom can in intensify stress, anxiety, and depression.
A lack of social-emotional competence can lead to not only a decrease in a student’s connection with the school but also academic performance as well. Social-emotional learning has a very important role to play in learning, as well as in school attendance, classroom behavior, and academic engagement for all students. The necessities and compulsories schools are required to address often result in the focus on social and emotional learning and mental health being overshadowed or pushed to one side.
What Should Teachers Know About Autism in the Class?
A teacher should start with loving the student with autism, like how he/she would love any other student in their class. First and foremost, students with autism are children. They need to love them at the same level as other students.
It is important to remember for teachers that all children on the autism spectrum are unique, and what defines one may not define another. So, it means that if you met one child with autism, you met one child with autism. There is no need to dig in. Teachers should be aware of that while some children with autism are non-verbal, others have an unbelievable talent for things such as music, art or painting.
It should be kept in mind that a student with autism should not be labeled as his/her place on the spectrum. Even though teachers see lots of in-depth and scientific documentation about the student’s diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Because it does not matter the place on the spectrum, they can move up the spectrum with proper care and therapy.
Like any other children in a classroom, children on the spectrum have their own strengths and weaknesses too. For example, some of them could be great with memorization, on the other hand, they could have problems with reading and sounding out words at the same time. So, teachers have to be prepared for a child to struggle with subjects to varying degrees.
Some students with autism work best when there are pauses between tasks. They may need to take a break. These breaks can last depends on the child’s need. A teacher who realizes the importance of these instructional pauses can decide to offer them to all students in the class as well.
As we all know, children on the spectrum autism are prone to like repetition and routines. So, the teacher can try to stick these routines as music as possible in order to make life in the class stressless. By doing this, they can prevent a tantrum, meltdown or unnecessary stress that students with autism have.
Apart from beneficial for students on the spectrum, according to researches’ results, consistent routines are beneficial for all children in the class. Even a simple change in routine could be catastrophic for children with autism. So, teachers should warn their students on the spectrum when a change in routine is planned or likely to take place.
Before accepting a student with autism in their classes, teachers should learn what sensory problems the child has and what kind of sensory problems they will experience in the classroom. Because it is a fact that children in the spectrum cannot cope with sensory problems like their peers and teachers should be aware of this.
As one of the main features of autism, stimming behaviors, such as hand-flapping, rocking, spinning and pacing, may be distracting to both the teacher and other students in the class. Teachers should always keep in mind that this type of behaviors is not meant to be a distraction. Opposite of that actually, it is a repetitive pattern that the child with autism finds comforting and make them relax.
In addition, teachers should keep in mind that all the time, stimming which is repetitive actions have a calming effect for a child with autism. They use those behaviors to lessen anxiety. However, obtaining a sense of calm through repetition is not reserved for stimming. Rather, teachers can provide a sense of calm for all students by maintaining a routine and sticking to it.
About the verbal instructions, children with autism usually have trouble understanding them. In order to come through this situation, the teacher can use as few words as possible. So, a student on the spectrum has fewer instructions to process. After that, if still, they do not follow up, the teacher can give directions separately. Also, the teacher may find multiple ways to give directions. For example, providing visual aids, showing pictures or writing instructions down. These methods could be easy to follow steps for students on the spectrum.
As one of the main features of autism spectrum disorder, children on the spectrum have problems in social life. These problems cause conflicts in the classroom. At that point, teachers take a place and they have an important role. They have to model proper behavior when something problematic happens.
Sometimes children on the spectrum due to their lack of understanding, they make unwanted and harsh comments. So, it is inevitable that teachers will hear hurtful words but they should be prepared in this context. They should know that it is not anything personal at all.
Teachers should be informed about children with autism usually have difficulties with motor skills. So, it may be beneficial to consider alternative ways of writing by hands for students with autism in the classroom. Moreover, teachers should not be afraid of spending time teaching social rules and skills to a student with autism if it is necessary. For example, waiting in line, how to use a pencil sharpener, how to congratulate friends and so on.
Teachers should take into consideration that students with autism spectrum disorder can find tasks which require a lot of planning and organization such as managing assignments, participating in assessments, navigating learning tasks, and completing homework extremely difficult. And, this can have a negative impact on their cognitive, social and academic ability.
All teachers who have a student with autism in the classroom should have more or less knowledge of autism. In addition, one of the most important things to know is that students in the spectrum need more time than their peers. Let’s say you are trying to teach something and you got a blank look from the student. This means that the student probably does not understand. Teachers can help them by repeating instructions with the same words or by turning words into a more basic version.
Students on the spectrum some times would be very quite. But, it doesn’t mean that they dont have anything to say. They can be shy, for example. In this case, theacher should encourage them to share their ideas, opinions and knowledge but in a different way.
Teachers should try to not use sarcasm, idioms or a raised voice while communicating with a student with autism. Because as we all know they don’t have any ideas about those social cues. Best case scenario, these types of communication make them confused. Worst case, they are scary.
Punishment is not an effective method in order to try to teach something to students with autism. While the punishment method doesn’t work with them, they are more responsive if it is positive reinforcement. The teacher should speak with the parents about what methods of punishment and discipline they find most effective.
It is completely exhausting that a child with autism spectrum disorder has senses that work overtime providing him or her with unreliable information. When they have met the standards set for them, teachers should allow the reward of downtime. I mean, teachers should allow the child to relax. It doesn’t need to be reward always. It can be sitting apart from their friends, for example.
As we all know children on the spectrum have special interests. In classroom settings, motivational tools for learning are a good way to capture their attention. When appropriate, teachers may also find it helpful in order to relate the material being learned about back to the child’s interest.
Another very important point is the meltdown. The teacher should know that those meltdowns are not for causing a disaster in the classroom. They happen because of all the senses they have. And meltdown is their reaction to those senses. As a teacher, remaining calm and supportive are the best you can do. Meltdowns are terrifying for them, for sure. That’s why there is no panic and anger needed in those kinds of situations.
The transition could be a very hard phase for a student with autism to struggle with. It can be emotionally difficult for them. Because they have to make changes in their daily routine by going to school. Those things cause stress and discomfort. In this case, teachers should make the transition smooth or at least try to make it easier for them. They can give the whole class reminder. They can ask their peers to help students with autism. They can provide a transition aid.
Only saying what is going to happen is not enough for students with autism. When they hear something only verbally, it makes the process longer and complicated for them. The teacher should explain everything in detail, tell them exactly what they want and what has to be done without using anything which doesn’t include similes, metaphors, and idioms.
All children benefit from clear choices, both children with autism and normally developed children. So, the teacher should try not to ask open-ended questions. Such clear choices allow for less processing time, fewer arguments, and a greater sense of the classroom as a community.
Making a choice may give opportunity students with autism to learn about themselves when it comes to the learning environment, lesson materials and communication. Teachers can build those choices into almost any part of the school day. For example, working alone or with a small group, reading quietly or with a friend, using a pencil, pen, or the computer and taking notes using words or pictures.
It will be beneficial using examples and photos of what a teacher wants or what has to be done as a task. With illustration, a student on the spectrum may understand better and it provides a clear image of what it is they are working towards.
Living on the autism spectrum means living with a sensory system that is constantly bombarding you with information that may or may not be accurate. If teachers happen to notice an abrupt change in behavior in their students with autism, they should know that it is likely not a case of the student deciding to act naughty for attention or entertainment. Actually, it is the opposite of that situation which is, he or she may be experiencing anxiety due to something in the environment.
Even though décor, colors, and textures of the classroom may appear fun to us, it could be difficult on the sensory system of a student with autism, because there are lots of bright colors with no place for eyes to rest and different textures to touch it. It is not totally up to teacher but still, they can consider tone down the décor to include fewer decorations, less intense colors and a place where a child can rest his/her eyes. In fact, a less stimulating classroom will be more beneficial for all the students in the classroom.
Socializing is an activity that plays an important role in child development. Therefore, a student with autism spectrum disorder needs to socialize like other peers in the class. Break times are good times for this socialization. Teachers should keep an eye on the student with autism and his classmates during these breaks. They should ensure that these times are beneficial and not overly difficult for a student with autism and the rest of the class.
As we all know, remaining organized is very challenging for children. However, for children on the spectrum, it is even more than challenging. They may have a very hard time adapting. At that point, the teacher should provide any needed help. They can assist by walking through unpacking, transitions, and packing up times until the student has turned these times into routine.
Supports for Students with Autism
As with almost any subject related to autism, there are some barriers to meeting the educational needs of students in the spectrum. It is neglected that they should receive good and appropriate education just like their peers. Among these barriers, financing, lack of information and training, lack of expert support staff and time, lack of appropriate resources and class sizes are the most common.
Funding can help the teacher to individualize their approach to a student on the spectrum. Because it can affect resourcing, support and available staff. Furthermore, the training and experience of the teacher in autism spectrum disorder will vary.
Adequate support is needed for the teacher working with students on the spectrum. Because they should know that they can meet the need of their students and it is something ongoing. They should individualize their educational approach according to student’s need and they need to know that they can be provided enough adjustments and resources that they can implement the classroom environment.
It is not enough to give teachers professional development on autism spectrum disorder. Those children need additional help from specialists related to autism to put adjustments in place that fit within the context of their classroom and school.