Teaching autistic children can be tough and can call for some different methods.
We asked UK qualified primary school teacher and tutor James Goldsmith for his opinion on what works best and he gave us some tips below.
• Utilize task analysis procedures. Be specific and complete tasks in sequential order.
• Keep your language concrete and simplistic in nature. It is important to get your point across in as few words as possible. For example, it is more effective to give an instruction saying "pens down, close your journal, and line up to go outside". It is less effective to elaborate on instructions and potentially provide instructions saying "it looks nice outside today, so we should do our lesson outside today. Once you finish your writing, close your books and line up at the door because we are going to study plants outdoors."
• Teach specific skills and social rules, such as social distancing and taking turns.
• Offer fewer choices to the child. If the child is asked to choose a color, it is recommended that you present only two or three options. When an autistic child is offered a plethora of options, he or she can become confused and anxious.
• When a question or giving an instruction is met with a blank stare, it is advised that you reword or rephrase the sentence. Try asking the student to repeat what you just said as this will help reinforce the instruction and clarify that you have been understood.
• Do not use sarcasm. Autistic children do not understand sarcasm and will take all responses literally; therefore, it is advised that you avoid sarcasm in all situations. For example, if a student accidentally knocks papers on the floor you should not say "great" because this may be taken literally and the action will be repeated.
• Do not use idioms, such as 'putting thinking caps on' or 'opening your ears and zipping your lips'. A child with autism approaches learning literally and may find it confusing on how to complete these activities.
• Offer clear choices and try not to leave the options for responses as open-ended. It is likely that you receive a more effective response by asking a direct question, such as "do you want to draw or read" rather than asking "what would you like to do now?"
• When working with autistic children, it is important to repeat the instructions and check the child's understanding of the instructions repeatedly. Use short sentences to ensure the clarity of these instructions.
• When drafting a lesson plan, it is recommended that you provide a clear structure with a set routine including time for play.
• It is vital that you teach the definition of "finished" and assist the student in identifying when something has finished. This can be taught by taking a photograph of what you want the finished item to look like and showing the student. For example, if you want the room cleared, take a picture of how you want it to look at the end and allow the child to use this as a reference.
• Provide warning of any changes to the daily lesson plan or switches in activities.
• It is recommended that you address the student individually at all times. This is important because an autistic child may not realize that an instruction given to the class includes him or her. Calling the child's name can be effective; however, there are situations where the student will need private attention.
• Various modes of presentation can be used, such as visual presentation, peer modeling, and physical guidance.
• Recognizing that changes in the child's behavior can reflect their frustration or anxiety. The anxiety is typically triggered by a change to the learning routine.
• Not acting in aggressive and rude ways when dealing with the child individually; as well as recognizing that the target for the child's anger may be unrelated to the source of the anger.
• It is advised that you avoid overstimulation when teaching an autistic child. Remove distracters and provide access to an individual work area when completing a task involving concentration. One technique to distract pupils is via colorful wall displays.
• Link work to the pupil's particular interests.
• Explore word-processing and technologically-based learning for literacy tasks.
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