Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can cause issues in crucial areas of development, such as social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, creative and imaginative play, and sensory processing.
Children with ASD may have difficulty understanding and communicating their needs and wants to teachers and fellow students. They may have trouble understanding certain classroom instructions and directions, along with vocal and facial cues of teachers. This can lead to inappropriate social interaction and behavior, which, can lead to bullying. Sensory issues are often a problem, and it means that a student with ASD may not cope with a noisy environment, being touched by others, etc. Difficulties with creative and imaginative play can also hamper interaction with other children, which can lead to several teaching strategies to not be effective.
All of these issues can make education stressful for children with ASD. For this reason, it’s crucial that teachers are aware of a student’s disorder. Ideally, teachers should have specific training in autism education.
Introducing a Child with ASD to the School
Children with ASD need help and support with education. Because every child is different, some will need highly-specialized education, while others will follow a more mainstream path. The right form of education can make a huge difference for children with ASD. So, choosing between mainstream, special school, and home education can be one of the biggest decisions a parent may face.
In any case, it’s a good idea to make the introduction to school gradual by:
• Taking pictures of the school and showing them to the child
• Taking the child to visit the school when no other children are present
• Introducing the teachers and staff to the child
Because children with ASD can easily become overwhelmed by noise, light, new people, and new environments, it’s best to start slowly. For example, gradually increasing the amount of time the child spends at school — while visiting — is much better and easier for a child, than a sudden and complete change of environment. As for teachers, it may be useful for them to have a photo and name on a badge so that the child begins to recognize them and their name.
Some Strategies for the Classroom
Visual Aids – some children with ASD learn more effectively with visual aids. This is because they are able to understand material that is presented visually. So, it’s a good idea to create some sort of visual schedules for children with ASD. This allows them to physically see and understand what is going on throughout the day, so they know what to plan and prepare for, and what activity they will be doing next. A visual schedule can reduce stress, as some autistic children have trouble going from one activity to the next.
Teacher’s Aid – A teacher’s help and support can greatly improve education for autistic students. For example, a teacher can give special one-on-one instruction, or more elaborate directions to the autistic child. But, because every child is different, it’s important for teachers to become familiar with the child’s disorder, in order to know what will work best with that particular child. In other words, teachers should be able to adjust with every autistic child.
Working in Pairs
Because children with ASD have problems with communication and socialization, working in pairs may be beneficial. Research has shown that working in pairs can help autistic children cope and deal with everyday problems more effectively. Peer interaction can help them make friends and become more integrated into the environment of the classroom.
Reducing Stress and Anxiety
Children with ASD often have high levels of stress, anxiety, and can sometimes experience depression. This is especially true in social environments, such as school. A child may display aggressive or explosive behavior, throw tantrums or appear completely dissociated at times. It’s important for teachers and educational teams to recognize these behaviors for what they really are; they are usually signs of high stress and anxiety. In order to prepare students for new situations, teachers can teach social and emotional concepts through behavioral strategies that can increase a child’s ability to control inappropriate behaviors.