ASD, or autism spectrum disorder, has had a wild ride over the last several years. First described as early as 1887, autism today is still an unfolding field of study when it comes to children with ASD.
Just a few years ago, in 2013, the major international mental health manual, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Version V, was updated yet again to reflect new understandings in autism spectrum disorder.
Meanwhile, in classroom all across the nation, parents, carers and educators are struggling to adapt rapidly to new information about autism spectrum disorder as quickly as it is being made available.
Whether you are a parent, a carer, an educator or an education assistant, this article offers three vital things you need to know when you are teaching children with ASD.
- Children with autism have tremendous potential.
Even the most casual glance at the list of individuals who have autism makes it clear that viewing ASD as a disability does these individuals a grave disservice.
Famous people who have acknowledged personal experience with ASD include these:
– American Idol finalist James Durbin.
– Actress Darryl Hannah.
– Filmmaker Tim Burton.
– Actor Dan Akroyd.
– Author and animal activist Dr. Temple Grandin.
– Jazz piano prodigy Matt Savage.
– Britain’s Got Talent singer Susan Boyle.
– America’s Next Top Model contestant Heather Kuzmich.
– Miss Montana winner and Miss America America’s Choice Award Winner Alexis Wineman.
There are many, many more where these amazing people came from, including famous individuals who are no longer with us whose symptoms appear to be a match but cannot be verified (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Andy Warhol and Lewis Carroll are among these).
All children with ASD need and deserve the mentorship and personal attention and instruction that can transform a potential liability into their most significant asset.
Children with autism need structured support for social settings.
As more and more information becomes available about autism spectrum disorder, more helps and tools can be tailored to the specific needs of these children. For instance, children with autism have the ability to learn social and cultural patterns to support them to get along well with peers, adults and others.
But they are unlikely to fare well when left to their own devices to decode how social society works. Rather, children with ASD need extra structure and support to comprehend how to socialize in productive and pleasurable ways for all concerned.
Here are some examples of the type of structured support ASD children really benefit from in a classroom setting (as well as at recess, lunch and before/after school):
– A list of rules about social interactions: do this/not that (i.e. taking turns, sharing, personal space, et al).
– Protection from peer teasing/bullying on a continual basis.
– Positive, productive modeling of appropriate social behaviors.
– Using direct language (not punishments, sarcasm or subtlety) for correction.
– Refusal to take an appearance of disinterest to be actual disinterest (it may or may not be, but either way, a child with ASD desperately needs social education to do well in the world).
As well, it is critical to remember that the current estimates suggest as many as one out of every 68 children may have some form of autism spectrum disorder. It is a very wide range, and there are many different ways ASD can present from one individual to the next.
For this reason, it is as beneficial for peers to learn at an early age how to socialize successfully with peers who have been diagnosed with ASD. In this way, it benefits every child equally to spend extra time and effort ensuring that children with ASD can successfully integrate into the learning environment and social culture of the classroom.
Children with ASD respond very well to simplicity.
Finally, while “autism spectrum disorder” as a diagnosis is deliberately named to cover a potential wide range of mannerisms and manifestations, there is one thing each ASD child has in common with all others: a strong need for simplicity in learning and in life.
This is not to say that children with ASD are simple – they are not. In fact, in many ways their brains can be brilliant in a way that a non-ASD individual’s may never be. From math to music, science to cinematography, the ASD brain is capable of incredible feats of beauty and brains that all people can admire and enjoy.
But this also speaks to the ASD child’s intense drive towards simplicity, one that can often look like obsessiveness or even obstinance to onlookers. Children with ASD are incredibly sensitive to their environment. Smells, sights, sounds, even textures can cause immense distraction that leads to the inability to learn.
Here are some examples of how simplicity can aid a child with ASD to realize their highest potential in the classroom:
– Establishment of a daily routine early on.
– Warnings before transitions from one activity to the next.
– Clear instructions that use as few steps as possible.
– Visual-based learning tools.
– Very simply worded lessons.
– Consistency in behavior from teachers and aides.
– Classroom helps like custom blankets that provide comfort.
– Simple quiet free time between lessons can help children with ASD self-calm.
Teaching children with ASD is still an emerging science and will be for quite some time yet. But this also means that talented educators who master the classroom skills to effectively teach children with ASD are in tremendous demand and have near-limitless career potential.
By embracing the challenge and opportunity of educating children with ASD, you also offer yourself the gift of connecting early on in their life with some of our next generation’s best and brightest.