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Whether you’re a special needs educator or teaching autistic children in a typical classroom, teaching students with autism can be more of a challenge than many expect.

With so many different varieties, types, and forms of diagnosis within the autism spectrum, what works for one student might not work for the next. These ten tips are a great place to start teaching autistic children in your class to ensure success – and help your students to be the best they can be in school.

Read on to discover some of our top tips for managing autism in the classroom:

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1. Look for the strengths of your students

According to Autism Speaks, we often focus on the less-positive traits of autism instead of looking at some of the talents or skills students can have. No child is talentless, so spending time looking for their strengths is more than worth the investment. With a little time spent observing your student, you can know them far better – and play to those particular strengths in the future.

Students with autism can have plenty of strengths in the classroom, including:

  • Better skills in working alone as opposed to working with others
  • High levels of understanding of ‘black-and-white subjects like math or science
  • The ability to focus on one task for an extended amount of time

When looking for the positives, you can adapt your lessons to suit your students. Which, in turn, makes them far more able to succeed in their schoolwork.

2. Take time to understand different learning styles

In any classroom, you’ll have students that respond best to different learning styles. Depending on the student, they may find that they have a far higher opportunity to learn the material in a certain way – which is often reflected in their studying style.

Typically, these different styles are defined as:

  • Visual
  • Audio
  • Physical
  • Written

For students with autism, this same concept applies. Some students will learn best when listening to audio about a subject. At the same time, others will do far better in their progress by acting out something or watching something via imagery or videos. Tailoring your lesson planning to include all of these different types of learning is a great way to work with your students. It ensures that everyone has an equal opportunity to learn and gain knowledge from the materials provided.

3. Additional Access support for your classroom

As an educator, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for additional help when you need it. Primarily when that support benefits your students and ensures your class is run as effectively as possible. While we all know teaching is a career where funding is low, there is often the opportunity to access additional support for teaching autistic children. This could be a designated Teacher’s Aide, a general classroom helper, or a specialist individual brought in to help support those struggling the most in your class.

As in many situations, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. While this doesn’t guarantee a yes, if you can put forth a strong reason for why additional support is needed, it may help your case. This is especially true with aggressive, violent, or nonverbal students that do require extra care and help to excel in an educational setting.

4. Plan ahead for behavior and negative actions

Planning is critical for any teacher, and never more so than teaching autistic children. The National Autistic Society has some excellent advice for helping students during the transition period to prepare them for what school will be like. Beyond that, planning can take many forms in the classroom, but behavior plans are one of the most important. These plans are designed to manage behavior in specific circumstances for that individual student.

A plan in place is essential, whatever your plan entails for meltdowns, aggression, or other behaviors. This should include designated safe or quiet areas and clear instructions on actions to complete should a student struggle. With a good plan, you’ll be far more confident and calm, no matter the situation.

5. Work with parents or caregivers

It may seem obvious to some, but working with the caregivers or parents of an autistic student can make all the difference. Parents know their children best and can provide valuable insight into their behavior, what overwhelms their children, and more. Teaching students with autism often goes beyond what is learned in a typical classroom; as such, it’s essential to be on the same page at home and in school.

Whether it’s providing status updates, supporting homework plans, or directly communicating with each other about progress made, having the caregivers onside can make a huge amount of difference to teaching autistic children, and it can ensure your students progress at the rate they need to – instead of falling behind their peers.

6. Use fixations to encourage learning

It’s common for autistic children to become fixated on certain things. Whether it’s maps, trains, or planes, you, as a teacher, can use that fixation to support their education. Consider improving their reading by supplying books related to their preoccupation or developing questions and worksheets based on their particular area of interest. In this way, you’re still encouraging your students to learn – but it’s done on terms they understand and can enjoy, which is what every teacher wants to achieve.

While this may add some additional work to your day, if you have a small number of fixated students or only a few autistic students in your class, it’s more than worth the time. Not only can you find they progress faster, but your students will also be keener to learn in the future – having learned that it may be related to their favorite subject.

7. Accompany verbal instructions with visual representations

If you’re talking about a specific concept or idea, accompany it with a visual image or video. For autistic students, simply listening to instructions can sometimes be challenging. Compounding that instruction with something visible and eye-catching can help your students make that connection and provide a cue throughout the lesson on what they are being taught.

The use of written instructions, and even the addition of physically miming an action, can be additional ways to draw the attention of students with autism. While you may still need to provide individual instruction and support, covering all the bases in the first place offers your students the best chance of success.

8. Don’t focus on skills like handwriting or coordination

Issues with coordination-related skills are pervasive with special needs students, especially with teaching autistic children. While in a typical classroom, you would focus on improving handwriting, forming letters, and writing within the lines on a page, you may find it more practical – and better for your students – to utilize a combination of writing on paper and using keyboards to type.

It can be an acquired skill to read the writing of lesser-developed students; teaching students with autism is no different. It might take time to understand their writing, but try to focus on content over the quality of handwriting – because coordination can be a lifelong issue for some students that they can’t grow out of or learn to do better.

9. Reduce loud noise in the classroom where possible

Noise can be a severe issue when teaching students with autism, with everyday loud sounds like the school bell or fire alarm testing leading to overstimulated students that can’t learn. If possible, reducing noise in the classroom overall is a good rule of thumb for teachers of autistic students. Include quiet as part of your standards, and your students will be in a far better place to work.

When it comes to noise that can’t be avoided – alarm testing, for example, or construction – the use of headphones can help to mitigate some of these issues. Encourage all students to wear noise-canceling headphones to listen to and watch an educational video or story for the duration of the noise, and you’ll have a far calmer class as a result.

10. Have a structure in place from the start of the day

Children of all ages thrive on a structured school day, and that can be doubled when it comes to autism in the classroom. Start the day by reviewing your expectations and rules for your class each day, and then continue with a full schedule. This must be visual and verbal to allow your students to process the information better.

A schedule can be kept in the classroom daily and adjusted to the day’s lessons. By taking this action, students can stay in comforting and calming routines that enable them to learn more. While unexpected things can and will happen, having a plan can ensure that you have something prepared even if you end up off-schedule.

Do you work with autistic students? What are your top tips for teaching students with autism, and which do you feel are the most effective for the classroom?