April is National Autism Awareness Month. Nearly a quarter century ago, the Autism Society launched a nationwide effort to promote autism awareness, inclusion and self-determination for all, and assure that each person with autism spectrumdisorder (ASD) is provided the opportunity to achieve the highest possible quality of life. On March 27, 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new data on the prevalence of autism in the United States. This surveillance study identified 1 in 68 children (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls) as having ASD.
Teachers and administrators are on the front-line when it comes to working with students with ASD. With this in mind, it is essential that school personnel understand the basics of autism spectrum disorders and the best ways to respond to an individual on the spectrum. Below we have outlined 6 steps to success for autistic students which can help you set yourself, your students with autism and their peers up for success.
(Information adapted from 6 Steps Success for Autism (2009) Organization for Autism Research)
Step 1:Educate Yourself
In order to properly deal with students on the spectrum, you must have a working understanding of autism and what that means for your particular student(s). Your education about autism will evolve as your relationship with the family and the student develops and your knowledge about the disorder and skills in dealing with its impact on the classroom grows. Below are some resources you can use to educate yourself about ASD.
- The Autism Society of America Website
- Autism Today, online magazine
- The National Institutes of Mental Health
Step 2:Reach Out to the Parents
Parents are your first and best source of information about their child. Establish a working partnership with your student’s parents. Building trust with the parents is essential. After that, establishing mutually agreed modes and patterns of communication with the family throughout the school year is critical. Ideally, this partnership will begin before the school year.
Step 3:Prepare the Classroom
There are ways you can accommodate some of the needs of children with autism in your classroom that will enhance their opportunity to learn without sacrificing your plans for the class in general. Of course, there are practical limitations on how much you can modify the physical characteristics of your classroom, but even a few accommodations to support a child with autism may have remarkable results. The Educator’s guide to Asperger Syndrome contains information about specific approaches for structuring the academic and physical environment to address the needs of your student with autism. Also read 12 Tips for Setting Up An Autism Classroom for help in ways to organize your classroom appropriately without sacrificing your general plans for the class. Or download, For Educators: Strategies for Working With Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder for 15 key strategies you can use in your classroom.
Step 4:Educate Peers and Promote Social Goals
You must make every effort to promote acceptance of the child with autism as a full member and integral part of the class, even if that student only attends class for a few hours a week. As the teacher of a child with autism, you must create a social environment that encourages positive interactions between the child with autism and his or her typically developing peers.
A great resource that can be used to educate peers is Sesame Street’s first autistic character, Julia. Sesame Street Workshop introduced this new character as a part of an initiative designed to “reduce the stigma surrounding autism.” The initiative, “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in all Children,” provides educational tools in online and printed story books and as a free downloadable app that features “Sesame Street” characters explaining to children how to interact with friends, like Julia, who have neurodevelopmental disorder. These resources are designed to make daily life tasks easier for families of children with autism and storybook materials for providers, organizations and caregivers. Sesame Street is using the #SeeAmazing hashtag on social media to promote awareness about the initiative.
Step 5:Manage Behavioral Challenges
For students with autism, problem behaviors may be triggered for a variety of reasons. Such behaviors may include temper tantrums, running about the room, loud vocalizations, self-injurious activities, or other disruptive or distracting behaviors. The key is to be consistent with how you react to the behaviors over time and to use as many positive strategies to promote pro-social behaviors as possible.There are many strategies that can be used to help your student avoid tantrums of meltdowns. By using a “functional behavior assessment,” a professional trained in ABA education, or psychology can help you determine what triggers the tantrum, change the environment to reduce the stress it is causing and teach your child to express his or her desires or feelings in a more adaptive manner. The Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice provides resources and valuable information on Functional Behavioral Assessments.
Two of Learners Edge’s most popular courses focus on children with special needs. We encourage you to explore these two online courses for teachers:
- Course 776: Across the Spectrum: This course has been designed specifically to help you work with students diagnosed with Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the mainstream classroom. You will explore the classroom communication, parent/teacher communication and collaboration and associated behaviors. You will learn about a myriad of strategies designed to help your student with ASD experience success in the mainstream classroom.
- Course 5855: Neurodiversity: A New Approach for Students with Special Needs: Neurodiversity- a concept whose time has come- challenges educators to shift from a disability perspective to a diversity perspective, and to use strength-based strategies designed to help students with special needs be successful in life and in school. For regular and special educators, this course encourages educators to focus on the positive assets of students who are neurodiverse and neurotyical and to understand how to support and provide the instruction they need.
Want to learn more about Learners Edge courses for special populations? Check out all of our special population continuing education course offerings by clicking the link below.
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