If you are a general education teacher who has not previously experienced the joy of having a student with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Asperger Syndrome, there are a few things you should know before stepping foot into a classroom with this child. The first thing to know is that having had one child on the spectrum means you know how to support that one child. Every child is different. However, there are some strategies which are helpful with many of these students. The most prevalent deficits in a student with Autism are social skills and communication, which can lead to negative behavior. Here are some suggestions:
- Will do best with information that is very black and white, especially if it’s written and posted. Posting written expectations is a Tier 1 RTI/PBIS strategy.
- Be direct with your instructions, options have their place, but not when you need specific outcome. You can provide optional locations to complete the work, but the work must still be completed.
- Don’t ask it as a question unless you’re ready to accept no as an answer. (T – “Can you get started on your math?” S – “No, thank you”).
- May not understand sarcasm or exaggerations like “I’m dying for a drink” or “my feet are killing me.” Some students will be very concerned about your health after hearing these statements.
- May not fully understand emotions – this includes facial expressions and body language. Be very clear and direct in your information delivery.
- May take some time to learn the unspoken rules of the classroom, like when it’s appropriate to sharpen his pencil (not during silent reading or class discussion). Specific written expectations with visuals are best. Chris over at Autism Classroom News calls this discovering the hidden curriculum.
- May need space to work away from other students. This may be for focus or even sensory reasons. Sensory processing is a whole other article in itself, but well worth looking into to further. Here is a great resource: Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)Resource Center.
- Possibly thinks in pictures, patterns, and symbols which makes it easier for him to explain without written words. Temple Grandin does a great job of explaining this in her book Thinking in Pictures.