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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability that affects social skills, self-government, and communication.
This is often diagnosed at an early age, and those with this disorder will often experience repetitive behaviors, difficulties forming relationships, and limited interests.
While the social challenges of autism are fairly well known, many do not understand the learning struggles that this disorder presents.
What further complicates this issue is the fact that the learning capabilities of those with autism can vary greatly.
For example, some autistic students may have excellent comprehension and language skills, but they struggle with noisy environments.
Others may require extensive assistance in the classroom and become easily distracted.
ASD covers a broad range of potential characteristics, and it's important to remember that teaching strategies will need to adjust to the individual.
This article will look at how autism affects learning and what can be done to ensure an optimal learning experience for autistic students.
It is known that children with autism process information differently, but remember that this applies to more than just information from a textbook.
Our brains are constantly processing information from our surrounding environment.
You may walk into a room with bright lights without giving it any significant thought.
However, sensory conditions like this can be overstimulating and cause anxiety in those with autism spectrum disorders.
Here are a few crucial areas to keep in mind when designing a classroom that will be conducive to a relaxed atmosphere for a child with autism.
It is advised to allow natural light to come into the room and have other lights dimmed.
Lights that are bright with harsh colors can be detrimental to an autistic student's learning experience.
However, if the sun is shining excessively and reflecting off of equipment in the classroom, this can cause distractions for the autistic child as well.
The goal should be for a lighting setup that comes across as mellow.
Avoid lights that are flickering or fluorescent.
Take notice if the sun is causing any glares or shadows in the room, and simply ask the child if they feel distracted.
Limit loud noises
Loud and abrupt noises can startle autistic children and adults.
This may cause them to lose concentration, and it may be hard to reel them back in afterward.
To avoid these mishaps, put sliders or tennis balls on the bottom of chairs and desks to avoid screeching noises.
Request that students keep their desks clear to avoid items being knocked off and disturbing other children.
When doing classroom presentations, ask students to snap their fingers in applause as opposed to clapping.
When the teacher is not lecturing, it may be wise to let the autistic student wear earplugs.
There are times when the child may need to calm their mind.
They may also need to get away from the group or their classwork.
Set up a comfortable area with bean bag chairs or couch cushions for them to reset and take a moment to themselves.
As humans, we are creatures of habit and enjoy routine.
An anticipated and consistent schedule can positively affect a child's learning capabilities, especially children with autism.
Obviously, new material will need to be taught each day for the development and education of the students, but try to make the daily tasks of learning new concepts as predictable as possible.
It's highly recommended to provide children with autism with a visual schedule for each day.
This will ensure there are no surprises and allow the child to check off tasks in order as the day progresses.
Having visual aids throughout the classroom will be beneficial for helping them keep a relaxed mind.
It's essential for teachers to understand the communication deficits that autistic children and adults may have.
Autistic students may possess above-average intelligence, and in some cases, extraordinary brilliance on certain topics, but they often struggle with social cues to convey their thoughts and ideas appropriately.
Autistic people also have a difficult time with non-verbal communication skills.
They may avoid eye contact or react with facial expressions that make them seem impolite.
They may struggle with gesticulation and talk in a way that seems flat or uninterested.
It is known that autistic kids struggle to develop joint attention, meaning that they may not be able to follow the visual cues given by their fellow students.
In certain scenarios, this inability to use or understand hand gestures can lead to frustration and outbursts.
Sometimes, a person with autism will start repeating their sentences over and over again, and what's stuck in their head may be utterly irrelevant to the conversation.
It's essential that a teacher understands that the progression of an autistic child's social cues and language development may not be linear.
They may improve in certain areas rapidly but stay stuck or go backward in other domains of social interaction.
It's important to make a classroom environment that allows kids with autism to express themselves freely and feel safe without judgment.
Restricted focus and interests:
One common characteristic of those with autism is their ability to remember tiny details of information presented to them but then have difficulty putting all of those details together to grasp the main idea.
For example, when kids with autism read a chapter of a book, they will be able to precisely remember names, dates, and events in the story.
However, if you ask them to give their thoughts on the main ideas behind the chapter, they may struggle to find a meaningful answer.
They tend to hyper-fixate on small details instead of focusing on the big picture.
Similarly, they may become highly preoccupied in areas that pique their interest, making it challenging to keep them engaged in subjects they find less exhilarating.
While this presents as one of several learning challenges, keeping these interests in mind can be used to the teacher's advantage.
When the teacher notices that the student's disorder prevents them from developing curiosity into a new topic, they can try presenting that new topic in a way that relates to what the child is already fascinated with.
For example, let's say the classroom is learning about math.
The teacher knows that their student loves basketball, so to spark their interest, the teacher will write math problems using basketball terminology and perhaps the student's favorite players.
Teachers should always ask the parents what gets their children excited to use that throughout the school year to help motivate them.
This is one of the many teaching strategies that improve classroom experiences and positively affect learning.
Conclusion: Evolving autism spectrum disorder teaching strategies
While autism spectrum disorder is not a learning disability in itself, it's imperative that we realize how autism will affect learning and present difficulties during the child's school day.
With continued research on the topic, there is hope that the most effective methods for autism education will continue to be uncovered and evolve.
Families and educators need to work together to utilize their resources and provide early intervention.
Early intervention techniques can help Autistic students thrive both inside and outside the classroom.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, December 2). Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 17, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html
How autism affects the inclusive classroom. Lamar University Online. (2020, November 23). Retrieved January 17, 2022, from https://degree.lamar.edu/articles/education/autism-affects-inclusive- classroom/
Jordan, R. (2016). Autism with severe learning difficulties a guide for parents and professionals. Souvenir Press.
News & events. Organization for Autism Research. (2022, January 12). Retrieved January 17, 2022, from https://researchautism.org/preparing-the-classroom-for-autistic-students/
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Autism spectrum disorder: Communication problems in children. National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Retrieved January 17, 2022, from https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/autism-spectrum-disorder- communication-problems-children
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Joint attention therapy for autism. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Retrieved January 17, 2022, from https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/autism/conditioninfo/treatments/joint-attention
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