With behaviors and actions ranging from mild to extreme, autistic spectrum disorders in the classroom can be challenging for any educator. But as we become more and more aware of the information surrounding autism – and how we can support students – it’s easier than ever for teachers to assist students with these disorders effectively, practically and functionally.
Autistic spectrum disorders in the classroom
For teachers of kindergartners or those who teach students from first to 12th grade, the following information can provide greater insight and support to ensure students with autistic spectrum disorders are able to integrate well into more traditional education systems.
Autism in the classroom
Labeled as a developmental disability, autism spectrum disorder – or ASD – can have a severe impact on a child’s ability to communicate effectively, create social connections or even behave in conventional ways in the classroom. With a recent study finding amongst 934 parents, 77% had children on the spectrum within a traditional mainstream educational facility, it’s never been more important to provide that support to students with ASD.
Often, students who are on the spectrum present as a unique challenge for teachers, and as such, it can be difficult for them to adapt to the learning styles and ways of teaching required. This is, in part, thanks to the lack of education and insight around teaching students with ASD in a mainstream school setting – leading to reduced confidence both with teachers and parents.
Across the world, at least 1 in every 59 children are diagnosed with a form of ASD. This volume means that the majority of teachers will have at least one child on the spectrum in their class – making it all the more vital to have greater insight and understanding of what that diagnosis means.
As such, teachers taking a direct approach to learning and understanding autism – and how it affects the behaviors of the children they teach – is invaluable. Part of this understanding should be placed in the development of strategies and appropriate methods to work alongside children with ASD and their parents, to provide them with the best possible education a mainstream school can offer.
How autism changes learning for students
While autism spectrum disorder is the overarching title for children who fall under this diagnosis, it’s important to note that every individual with ASD is unique – and the needs of one student will be entirely different to the support required by another. This means that strategies devised by teachers will need to be highly subjective for each individual to be successful.
This point is especially illustrated by the fact that many students with ASD also have other mental health issues or needs in addition to the challenges caused by the daily management of their disorder. For students on the spectrum, social and communicative problems can often be a staple of the disorder, which further impacts on many other aspects of their life – especially so in an educational setting.
Teaching in mainstream schools often has a significant focus on social interaction, with many teaching strategies placing emphasis on helping children to develop more effective methods of interaction and communication. With so much reliance placed on developing high-functioning social skills, students with ASD can soon become anxious, stressed or even depressed as a result of this focus.
This difficulty with social and emotional connections can be one of the main ways learning needs to be different for children with ASD. This is especially key when it comes to the social and behavioral engagement of a student being critically linked to their academic performance. Because of these requirements, students with ASD can often be ‘left behind’ in comparison to their peers, resulting in a less fulfilling learning process and lower engagement overall.
Understanding the learning process and capabilities of students on the spectrum is about more than just simply altering small parts of the curriculum as a form of accommodation. It requires teachers and students to work together to find new, better methods of academic success for students who may struggle in specific areas; with social and emotional connections often proving a particular challenge.
What teachers can do to help autistic students?
When it comes to providing students with the tools they need for success, inclusion is often the first word that teachers encounter. However, it’s important to challenge the concept and assumption surrounding this term. While it is favorable to include and adapt lesson planning for students with ASD, it’s also essential to allow adjustments outside the norm to ensure their personal needs and challenges are met and supported.
The first step to successfully engaging and teaching students on the spectrum is to treat them as individuals, rather than a collective set of problems to be solved. This allows any adjustments required to be tailored to their personal needs, rather than a generic diagnosis. Students on the spectrum are as varied and different in personality, needs, and behaviors as any other students. This is an important distinction to make.
That being said, certain elements can be universally helpful for the development of students with ASD. Offering time away from other children – and the general emotional or social requirements for an active class – can be a vital tool to enhance their learning experience. While the amount of time needed will vary from student-to-student, putting this resource in place is an excellent place to start when it comes to accommodating students with additional needs.
These tools don’t just apply to students specifically on the spectrum – for teachers who acknowledge and identify the stresses and anxiety mainstream schooling can cause any student, providing these options for students can help them develop coping strategies and wellbeing techniques that are useful later in life.
Ideas for effectively teaching ASD students
There’s plenty of resources, guidance, and advice out there to help teachers provide their ASD students with a more enriching, involving and rewarding learning environment. From Asperger’s syndrome to more complicated requirements, most children on the spectrum will need your support in one way or another to succeed academically.
These are just a few ways educators can provide better learning for students on the spectrum:
- Use simple, concrete and absolute language to get your point across, whether it’s discussing behavior, teaching specific information or outlining when a student should start or stop activities
- Help students to identify specific socializing rules or skills, such as maintaining a good social distance or taking turns and sharing
- Reduce the use of idioms or sarcasm in your wording to ensure your student does not become confused by conflicting messaging
- Offer choices with clear answers, allowing students to form their own thought processes without overwhelming them with a wide range of options
- Continually check your students’ understanding of what you are asking of them, rewording questions when needed to get the right answer
- Provide a clear, effective and routine structure to each day that a student on the spectrum can easily follow and understand, incorporating special requirements such as quiet time, as needed
- Develop an understanding of the student’s triggers and recognize any sudden or unexpected changes in behavior
- Avoid overstimulating students on the spectrum by providing a clean, clear workspace or even separate space for tasks that require high levels of concentration
- Provide more freedom for students with ASD to avoid activities that may be stressful or anxiety-inducing if they are not integral to academic learning, such as team-building games or sports
- Work with the student to gain a greater understanding of their specific challenges within the school environment, instead of generalizing
All of the above suggestions and more can provide teachers with the skills they need to offer ASD children a fulfilling, engaging and enjoyable learning environment. While there are many challenges involved in delivering this specifically designed teaching style, there are also plenty of rewards and benefits to students.
The benefits of working with a student on the spectrum also extend to other children, providing them with the knowledge and empathy of working with those who may be different within a classroom environment. This exposure to students who may have different needs can help other students to understand the differing needs and support of those around them, helping them to develop vital communications and social skills themselves.
At Classful, we know that any sort of challenges you face as a teacher can be as rewarding as they are inspiring, which is why we offer the platform to help some of the world’s best educators get the funding they need to make their classroom better in countless different ways.
Whether it’s resources to support children with ASD, or additional support to ensure all their students can learn effectively, with Classful gaining those tools is easy. Contact us today to find out more about our services, and how we can help make your teaching dreams a reality.