Autism is defined by the Autism Society of America (ASA) as a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain. Autism is one of five disorders that fall under the umbrella of Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), a category of neurological disorders characterized by “severe and pervasive impairment in several areas of development.”
Signs of autism generally cover three areas: social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and behavior.
- Fails to respond to his or her name
- Poor eye contact
- Appears not to hear you at times
- Resists hugs and holding
- Seems to prefer to play alone or retreat to their “own world”
- Begins talking later than 2 years old
- Loses previously learned abilities to say words or sentences
- Speaks with an abnormal tone or rhythm (sing-song or robot like)
- Can’t start or continue a conversation
- May repeat phrases exactly without understanding how to use it
- Performs repetitive movements such as rocking, spinning, or hand-flapping
- Develops specific routines or rituals
- Becomes overly agitated when their routine is changed
- Moves constantly
- May be fascinated by parts of an object such as spinning wheels
- May be sensitive to light, sound, or touch yet not seem to feel pain
If you suspect your child may have autism, or displays symptoms of autism, please contact your child’s physician for the proper diagnosis and treatment.
Here are 20 suggestions, found on the ASA website (Autism Society of America) to help you make learning easier for students with autism:
- Extend a welcoming environment to all students.
- Identify and use appropriate functional communication systems across all environments consistently.
- Develop predictable routines; use timers or bells to assist children with transitions from one activity to the next (making transitions is an area of particular difficulty for most students with autism).
- Understand that behavior is a form of communication that can often be remedied by assessing the child’s communicative intent and making environmental changes or implementing planned behavioral interventions.
- Use visuals to convey instructions, meanings, routines, and schedules.
- Provide a classroom aide or paraprofessional to help the child complete tasks and to facilitate meaningful social interactions and appropriate adaptive behaviors.
- Encourage “peer mentoring”.
- Build on areas of strengths and interests. Develop skills and talents that can lead to success later in life.
- Use creative strategies to assist the child in learning more effective social skills.
- Provide frequent positive reinforcement. Find out from parents or guardians what type of motivators work for each child.
- Plan for “fading” prompts to promote more independence.
- Be aware of the child’s sensory needs when developing classroom activities and implementing behavioral strategies.
- Do things with instead of for the student when she or he needs assistance. Have high expectations!
- Allow extra time for the child to form a response to your request (many students need extra time to process the meaning of an instruction).
- Provide an environment that is uncluttered and without distracting noises.
- Whenever possible, use natural lighting; standard fluorescent lighting can cause difficulties for some children with autism.
- Consider the physical placement of the child in the classroom and how it relates to his or her unique responses to environmental stimuli.
- Do not request information from the child when she or he is upset – all time for coping.
- Treat the student with autism with the same respect you would their fellow classmates.
- Empower the student to be an active participant in all classroom and social activities.