Recent data shows that about 1 in every 54 children in the US have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
For some children, this will not present many difficulties in school, and they won’t require a specialized curriculum. However, some autistic children benefit from teaching practices created specifically with them in mind.
At Teachers Hideaway, we know that teaching is one of the hardest professions in the world. That’s why we work hard to create resources that cater to all teachers’ needs.
Read on for our top 11 tips for teaching autistic children that will ensure your success as an educator and their educational growth.
1. Create More Opportunities for Communication
For some children with autism, ASD impacts their available modes of communication. In fact, roughly 40% of autistic children are nonverbal or nearly nonverbal. This means that you may need to learn a few extra skills in order to communicate with all of your students.
Some children with ASD struggle with verbal communication, so sign language becomes a better option. You may also need to talk to your school board about facilitated communication. This requires portable communication devices that allow nonverbal children to communicate by pressing keys to express needs, thoughts, and desires.
2. Provide an Environment with Structure
When setting up your classroom where you’ll be teaching autistic children, try to keep things orderly. Build the routine of your curriculum into the physical environment.
One way to do this is to create clear, designated spaces to cycle through during the day. For example, rather than having your students create works of art at their desk, consider creating a space designed for art that they can head to at the same time every day.
Additionally, give each student their own cubbies, and stick to a seating chart to avoid frustration or sudden change.
3. Give Activities Structure
In addition to creating a structured environment, create structured activities. Break activities and assignments down into steps. Rather than delivering every step at the beginning of an activity, allow students to complete each step before discussing the next.
Pay attention to the kind of structure that brings your students comfort. Does it help to know what time an activity will start and stop? How about the subjects you will cover today? Make this information clear and available to everyone in the classroom.
4. Incorporate Various Learning Styles When Teaching Autistic Children
For a long time, it was assumed that children with autism learned best visually. However, recent studies have found that this isn’t always the case. In fact, for many students involved in these studies, visual learning neither improved or tarnished their ability to learn the material at hand.
That being said, we’re not advocating doing away with visual learning altogether. Instead, consider taking a few different approaches.
Consider working on a unit using visual, auditory, and tactile learning styles. Focus on one style at a time, rather than blending them the way you would when teaching neurotypical children.
5. Avoid Abstract Language
Children with ASD tend to take what we say quite literally. That means that figurative or abstract language may cause serious confusion.
Many autistic children also struggle with gestures, facial expressions, and other nonverbal cues. Frowning will not necessarily convey that you are dissatisfied, and smiling and nodding will not fully express encouragement.
Most of us are quite used to speaking in abstraction and using nonverbal cues to get our point across. Learning to speak directly and clearly may take time. Do your best to pick up on your students’ confusion, and reword what you’re trying to say.
6. Encourage Socializing
Socializing in a comfortable way does not always come naturally to autistic children. This is in part because of what we just discussed. The ways we communicate are often confusing, making it difficult for autistic children to bond or connect with others.
Use tools to help your students pick up on facial expressions. Organize activities that require teamwork and collaboration so that they have a safe environment to practice socializing. Foster moments of fun and even silliness so that your students can experience pleasant socialization on top of practical socialization.
7. Build In Extra Time
Parents of special needs children will be the first to tell you that extra time is key. Disruptions can occur if a student becomes distressed or excited. Some activities may present more difficulties than others.
Teaching autistic children requires the perfect balance of structure and flexibility. When creating a lesson plan for the day, make sure that one or two activities can be eliminated if necessary, and moved to the following day. Keep extra activities handy that can be given to students who are ready to move on, while others are not.
8. Combat Stressors
All children enjoy structure, but autistic children tend to need it a little more than usual. Disruptions or rapid transitions from one activity to the next may create feelings of uneasiness, or even danger.
If you know something out of the ordinary is coming, provide several warnings and reminders. For example, if your school has a fire drill scheduled, remind your students every day in the week leading up to it.
Ask them to tell you when it is going to occur, what it will sound like, and what they will need to do in response to it.
While some disruptions are unavoidable, it is important to create a learning environment that feels as safe and reliably structured as possible.
9. Avoid Sensory Overload
Children with autism tend to struggle with sensory activities. They are either overly-sensitive to their senses, or under-sensitive to them.
For those who are overly-sensitive, all sorts of things can become distracting or distressing. For those who are under-sensitive, you may notice behaviors like creating more noise or fixating on the motion of a certain object.
Talk to specialists about sensory sensitivity toys. These toys are designed to introduce overly-sensitive children to different senses in a safe way. They are also designed to satisfy under-sensitive children in a safe and less disruptive way.
Some of your students may require outside help. If you notice certain tendencies you are not equipped to handle in the classroom, talk to the student’s parents and other faculty members who can help. Sensory therapy can be a great resource!
10. Treat Students as Individuals
When you are teaching autistic children, you will be presented with tons of challenges and obstacles. Meeting the needs of each child in your classroom isn’t always easy, especially if you are one of the only educators in the room.
We’ve all experienced the symptoms of educator burnout at least once in our careers.
Although this can become frustrating, make sure you are treating each of your students like the wonderful, bright individuals that they are! Getting to know them as individuals can provide you with much more insight into the best ways to teach them.
11. Join an Online Community of Educators
We all have our support systems, but sometimes what we really need is to speak with other educators. That’s why we created Teachers Hideaway, the only social media platform designed specifically for teachers.
Members have access to a variety of materials and resources in addition to message boards. Who better to learn from than your fellow educators? Discuss challenges, seek guidance, and share your joy in an environment that is safe, private, and just for educators!
Connect with special education teachers from school districts all over the nation. Learn what other educators are doing to meet the challenges of teaching autistic children!
Sign Up for Teachers Hideway
Teaching autistic children is one of the most rewarding things you can do. It is also one of the most challenging. In times of joy and hardship, joining a community of teachers is a great way to stay focused on why you love what you do!
We wanted to provide more than closed chat rooms for educators. We also wanted to create a valuable source for teachers to share resources and innovative ideas to improve education everywhere! That’s exactly what Teachers Hideaway seeks to do.
In order to make our platform as accessible as possible, we offer three different pricing packages. We don’t make you sign a contract or agree to a specific cancellation period. We understand that life can change in the blink of an eye!
Are you ready to begin your Teachers Hideaway membership? Head to our login page and create your account so you can join our online community today.