Education and the Autistic Spectrum | 123Read&Write

As defined, autism is a neurodevelopmental disability, which affects an individual's communication, social development, and behavioral skills. It's important to note that autism is affects each individual differently. When educating a child whom lies within the autistic spectrum, there are some distinct educational strategies that a parent or teacher should keep in mind.

  • Children with autistic tendencies can be very sensitive to the classroom or learning environment. Therefore, visual and auditory stimulation must be taken into account. For example, if you show video clips in your classroom at a loud volume level, a child with autistic tendencies may have a very difficult time with that form of stimulus. The same goes for visual stimuli, as well. With an autistic child, often "less is more."
  • Routine, routine, routine . . . this cannot be said enough. An autistic child's daily routine (including school) must be kept as consistent and predictable, as possible. In the classroom, having a visual schedule posted (and possibly with the child, as well) offers the student visually clear depiction of the day's schedule. This also allows for the child to know when to get ready for any transitions (i.e. transferring from class to class). As an educator, if you're to use visual schedule (which I highly recommend), utilizing clipart icons can do wonders. For example, if 2nd hour is physical education, then maybe a football can be used as its correlating icon. If Language Arts is 3rd hour, then a pen or paper icon would work nicely. 
  • Going back to the classroom environment, an autistic child must have a classroom or learning environment where they can clearly observe and comprehend what is expected of them. Some ideas (and there are many more) include: three-sided work areas to block out surrounding distractions, easily defined work stations, labels everywhere, etc. Headphones can also be beneficial as part of the classroom materials. If needed, these can be used by a child when sound levels become too stressful for them to concentrate on the work at hand.
  • Since many children on the autistic spectrum have difficulty with communication processes, it's important to have an augmentative communication system available. One such system which works quite well is PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System). This type of system is imperative for an autsitic learner, especially if they become stressed or emotional, in the learning environment. If this happens, having a back up communication system is imperative, for it allows the child to express themselves in another way, when verbal communication has failed them.

  • While most children can develop interactive skills simply by being in a social learning environment, a child with autism needs a more direct, one on one approach, when developing such skills. Once again, visual structuring can be very helpful in such an instance. In this manner, a child with autism can use pictures, etc. to identify certain emotions, what triggers various emotions, and how to properly behave in a mulititude of social situations. In addition, short social interactive stories about emotions can be beneficial. These are available in book and ebook formats. 
  • One of the most important components in an autistic child's learning environment is consistency. If an autistic child's daily routine is consistent with clear expectations, the child's ability to successfully learn increases greatly.
  • Many children with autistic tendencies benefit greatly from opportunities for sensory stimulation. Depending on the child's specific needs, time for movement, opportunities to work with objects (i.e. blocks, shapes, toys, etc.), or a quiet space; a child with autism should have a complete sensory profile completed, so that when the child needs sensory stimulation, it can be implemented appropriately thorughout the day. 

  • Regardless of a child's autistic tendencies, every effort should be made to make their educational curriculum as normal and functional as possible. The simple reason is that most children with autism have the ability to live, learn and become fully functional, independent adults. Skills that should be concentrated upon include: communication, living skills, recreational, and relaxation strategies. While in the traditional school setting, as much as possible, an autistic child should try to follow the normal curriculum (i.e. math, english, science, etc.); but the aforementioned skills should also be implemented as often as possible. Finally, many children with autism have very specific interests and strengths. It's imperative for the educator to identify these strengths and allow the child to demonstrate their knowledge in such areas. This can be a tremendous confidence and trust builder.