Normally, when a child shows problems in social interaction and communication and associated with restricted and repetitive behaviors, we assume the child has some form of autism. You can find the detailed list of signs compiled by the leading experts here.
Gone are the days when children with autism are simply thought to be damaged or mentally handicapped and couldn’t be taught necessary skills for having them enabled to lead a life in the mainstream social arena. More and more pre-schools, kindergartens, high schools, even universities are adopting special curriculums and programs to help the autistic children to be educated. That they are burdens to the society is a concept proved wrong a long time ago. But still the job needs to be done and knowing and believing doesn’t make it any easier.
In a study done recently by the UK’s National Autism Project, it has been estimated that around 32 billion pounds are spent for the autistic children with their actual needs remain unmet. It shows inexperience in approaching the job.
Below are a few tips gathered from experience through teaching the autistic children, which I believe the teachers and educators, can use in their pursuit to bring up the next Albert Einstein or Bill gates.
An Environment Known By Heart:
An autistic child gets comfortable with fixed fixtures. They don’t like disruptions in their perceived daily routines. So, it’s your duty to provide them that. As teachers and educators of the autistic children, it is our responsibility to ensure that they are told beforehand what lessons they are going to be taught, how long it will take, when each lessons will take place, when they are going to be completed, and after finishing all of that, what is happening next.
Communication Should Be Made Easier:
Now-a-days, many methods for communicating with autistic children are developed. Usually the base of every communication method is to use minimal words necessary. As such, sign language with only the bare minimum words should be used. Facilitated communication is a new way developed for making more meaningful contact without creating added pressure on them. In this new method, teacher keeps holding the hands of the children and promotes them using the suitable keys of the portable communication device.
Aid Them With Visuals:
It has already been proved on numerous studies that visual support works better on the child on autism spectrum than auditory input. Seeing something instead of saying it, helps them holds back within and helps them give the info the treatment it required effortlessly. A few tools made by professionals are:
- Boardmaker– this software creates Picture Communication Symbols (PCS) and other graphics. Pictures created by this software cannot be used for all, since some children don’t understand line drawings.
- PictureSET – a collection of visual supports which can be downloaded as required.
- Visual Suite – a new product pre-installed with thousands of photos of everyday encounters of our daily life.
- You can also make your own visual aids, simply pictures of everyday objects with a digital camera and print them as you go along with the teaching process.
- Pound stores can be of a great help to collect inanimate, inexpensive useable objects.
- A number of apps are also available.
For applying the visual aids, the following hierarchy should be followed:
- Color Photos
- Black and White Photos
- Color Drawing
- Black and White Drawing
- Written Word.
Strengthening Social Interactions:
Children with ASD need specialized help for mastering the social interactions which occurs both at home and at school. An autistic child will show zero interest in interacting others except their parents. As an educator it is your job to encourage and inspire them to establish meaningful social interactions with fellow students, neighbors and relatives. Below is a simple template that can be used for encouraging reciprocal exchanges –
- Walking up to the child smiling.
- With a clear, non-threatening eye-contact, say your name.
- Ask the child what his/her name is.
- If possible, use a pre-planned conversation starter.
- Respond immediately after whatever responses you receive.
- Invite the child to play with you or with the other children.
The above four methods should be the base of any method followed by a teacher.
I am also providing a few more tips in the shape of bullet points without explaining them in detail:
- In some cases, autistic children might be associated with conditions like dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia and other learning difficulties. And special care is required to provide for these children. In this cases, special needs tutoring provided by the professionals should be made available.
- You need to make daily activities routine and structured as well, with the help of visual daily planners or other resources you can get your hands on.
- Always use direct and precise language.
- You need to be prepared to help them learn at their own pace, rushing them onto something will bring about only losing confidence in you, which you might not get back.
- An autistic child is under or over-sensitive to certain smells, specific lightings, buzzing sounds of electrical appliances, echoes happening nearby etc. You should always be careful about them.
- Many a times an educator can benefit him/herself simply from the child itself, so you just need to observe closely. Also some children will happily share their preferences.
- As much as possible, teachers and educators should be using the child’s own likings, areas of strengths and expertise and gifts regularly as tools for teaching.
- Might seem like daunting but as a teacher, you need to try hard to get them talking – doesn’t matter about what – as long as they talk, it helps them tremendously.
- Giving them choices make them feel having a control over their lives, which in turn make them more susceptible in learning.
There is abundance in resources, studies, methods, professional helps available to get help about autism. All you need is to believe that you are going to bring about something magical.
The rest will follow.