Parents, teachers, and counselors all work together to support the academic success of the autistic student. Parents have a responsibility to constantly assess their autistic child’s progress and needs, but it is sometimes difficult for us to visualize the daily school ritual and help their children accordingly. We need our educational allies. This post contains advice to help educators better understand the needs of an autistic student. Parents may also benefit from communicating any applicable suggestions to their child’s teacher(s).
Education Tips for Teachers and Parents of Children on the Autism Spectrum
Create a learning environment that promotes their social and emotional success.
Classrooms that don’t tolerate bullying or teasing and promote academic and social community are the best environments for children on the spectrum (as well as neurotypical children) to learn in. This may sound obvious, but teachers know that it isn’t simple to implement. It only takes on child to challenge a classroom management system, and sometimes teachers struggle with trying to develop and implement engaging lessons while maintaining effective classroom management. But since children on the spectrum are more likely to be the target of bullying than their neurotypical peers, it’s crucial that their classroom environment be well-managed to offer them the best opportunity for academic and social success. Besides having a well-managed classroom, teachers can try to employ the following strategies (and parents can check to see if they are being implemented):
- Assign partners for group work. If there is a high likelihood an autistic student will be left out when the class is given a chance to choose partners, do not offer the choice. Assign him or her a partner who is patient, understanding, and will cooperate.
- Assign a buddy or recruit several buddies. Try talking to other students who sit near the autistic student. Explain different ways they can support him or her in the classroom.
- Enforce bullying rules. This sounds like an obvious piece of advice, but it’s particularly crucial for students on the spectrum. They depend on routine and the structure of the classroom. Bullies not only distract students from learning, they can create an emotionally stressful environment for people on the spectrum that lasts long after any one particular incident.
Reduce sensory stressors in the classroom environment.
Students on the spectrum experience a variety of different sensory sensitivities in a classroom environment that can hinder learning. Some common stressors include lighting, wall hangings, perfumes and air fresheners, and the hum of air conditioners. For more information about how to create a sensory-friendly classroom environment, refer to my earlier post on this topic.
Create a structured curriculum with clear expectations.
It’s important for teachers of autistic students to establish clear expectations. Creating consistency with assignments and study schedules is helpful. Below are a few more tips:
- Break down complex assignments into smaller steps.
- Autistic students sometimes have trouble with sorting essential and nonessential information. Identify strategies for organizing this information that would be helpful in your classroom.
- Autistic students sometimes have difficulty with organization skills. Offer tips specific to your classroom that might help them in this area.
Autistic students tend to interpret things literally and concretely. Try to avoid sarcasm and abstract language unless you are confident they can understand your meaning. Too much sarcasm can confuse autistic students and socially isolate them.
Develop a system for regularly checking progress.
Constant assessment and academic plan revisions will help ensure success. Communicate regularly with parents. Some teachers and parents find it useful to write in a daily communication notebook or weekly communication sheets. When possible, find time to ask for the students’ input too to help shape future academic supports.
Create a schedule that offers down time and reduces stressful transitions.
A top priority for autistic students is creating a daily schedule that optimizes academic, social, and emotional stress by minimizing stressors. When creating a school day schedule, parents and school counselors can consider:
- Alternating preferred activities/classes with non-preferred one.
- Allowing extra time between classes for high school-aged children or arranging their classes to be as close together as possible.
- Offering either a scheduled sensory break time or a safe retreat space in the school that the student can go to if he/she feels overwhelmed.
Don’t make assumptions about academic ability.
Because autistic people sometimes show advanced skills in one particular academic area, it is easy to assume they should be able to perform with high competency in other areas. This isn’t always the case. Additionally many autistics require specific conditions (environmental factors, mood, independence, etc.) to perform at high levels (as do many neurotypicals). Difficulties with executive functioning can also prevent autistics from meeting the requirements of a traditional classroom even when they assess the knowledge and understanding demanded by the academic standards.
Don’t assume misbehavior is manipulative.
Avoid getting in a power struggle during the school day. Assume misbehavior is a signal of stress and not selfish manipulation. Consider a symptom of a larger problem you need to solve and not the problem itself.
Tell them what they are doing right.
Autistic children tend to receive more negative attention and corrective commands than their neurotypical peers. Try to point out what they are doing right and encourage them to succeed as often as you can. Positive attention will help them develop academic, social, and emotional confidence.