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How To Help Students With Autism In The Classroom

Autism in the classroom

An SEN (special educational needs) teacher/teaching assistant supports students who may have physical or emotional disabilities/difficulties. An example of students who need extra support in school are those on the autism spectrum.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can affect communication skills, verbal and nonverbal, as well as a person’s ability to focus. This means that students with autism require different teaching methods to help them meet their learning goals. 

An SEN teacher/teaching assistant should be able to quickly adapt to a student’s different learning needs by using varied teaching styles.  

Below are some tips that an SEN teacher/TA may find useful to help them deliver lessons that effectively support an individual’s learning, particularly those with autism.

1. Routine

daily routine notepad

Children with autism often suffer from anxiety. They can become easily upset in unfamiliar settings or when confronted by unpredictable situations. Consistency is necessary to help lessen their anxieties.

Establishing a daily routine will help to provide a nurturing environment in which students can feel comfortable. 

For example, a class should have a clear beginning and end. At the start of a class, teachers should explain what the lesson will involve and what’s expected of the students. 

Additionally, providing a secure setting will also enable students to develop their confidence. 

Daily tasks should be broken up to help students understand what they need to achieve. Organising a class in this way will motivate students since they will feel encouraged by their clear progress. This should be demonstrated by the teacher through praise after students have completed a task. 

Visual aids can also be used to help establish a routine, such as images of familiar objects to assist with learning a topic.

Again, every student’s needs are different, so bear this in mind when structuring your class. 

2. Communication Style

Develop a style of communication that caters for every student. 

For example, some students may respond well to small hand gestures, or even sign language, whereas others may prefer simple verbal instruction.

Communication cards are also an effective tool to use in a classroom, or any other type of visual aid, such as digraphs and pictures.  

As previously mentioned, every student will have different learning needs which means certain tools may not be suitable for the whole class. Consider that children with ASD can be sensitive to sound, light, colours, and so on. This can have an impact on their learning, and the tools that they choose to use. 

3. Collaborative Learning

Parent working with child

Parents should be encouraged to assist with students’ learning, and for autistic students, parents’ support is even more vital. 

Teachers/TAs need to collaborate with parents to ensure the child’s learning in school is also integrated into their home life. There needs to be continuity and consistency to help them develop and apply their skills in all settings, not just in school. Share an individual lesson plan with each student’s parents to help achieve this.

Any learning tools that students use in school should also be available to them at home.

4. Interests and Needs

A student’s interests can be used as gateways to learning. 

Autistic children tend to have intense interests. As well as helping them build confidence, these interests can assist students in understanding their emotions. This is invaluable since a lot of students with ASD struggle with recognising and expressing their emotions. Additionally, they can also find it difficult to read the emotions of others.

Find out what individual students are passionate about and try to implement these interests into their learning material.

5. Background of Autism

Young girl with autism struggling to communicate

Build up your knowledge of the background of autism. Knowing more about autism can help you to understand your students better.

There are several types of autism that you should be familiar with. For example:

  • Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA)
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

Students may suffer from any of the above disorders to varying degrees.

Depending on the type of disorder, autism can affect students’ ability to:

  • Communicate
  • Move/coordinate (Motor skills)
  • Receive information (Sensory skills) 
  • Think and deal with emotions (Mental skills)

6. Adapt and Change

Be flexible. Expect to change your approach, adapting your teaching methods to ensure that you can effectively meet students’ learning goals. 

Since autistic children can be overly sensitive to what they see and hear, which is exacerbated by their lack of emotional understanding, they can become easily upset. If a student is upset, this can affect the other students in the class.

In certain instances, such as the above, you will need to find a quick solution, and perhaps abandon some lesson plans, to regain students’ attention. This is why being a patient, flexible and quick-thinking teacher/teaching assistant is vital, particularly when working with SEN students.

Develop your teaching skills, continuing to learn new techniques that you can apply in class.

We hope that you’ve found these tips for teaching students with autism helpful. 

If you’re seeking a position as a special educational needs teacher/teaching assistant, then take a look at the SEN jobs that we currently have available.

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