Teaching Techniques for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Student with autism ready for class

Parents developing educational plans for their autistic children should learn about teaching techniques for students with autism spectrum disorder. The right educational plan will include consistent teaching techniques for both home and school to improve daily life. Autism teaching techniques can help children with autism learn academics, address autism symptoms, improve language and communication skill and connect with parents.

Autism Learning Issues

Children with autism require specialized teaching techniques to address learning difficulties. Students with autism may experience the following issues that can interfere with the learning process:

  • Problems understanding verbal instruction
  • Difficulty focusing on subjects outside of narrow areas of interest
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Sensory issues

Autism teaching techniques must address these issues for the best probable outcome.

About Teaching Techniques for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

When developing a teaching strategy for a child with autism, it is important to explore the various teaching techniques available to find the right one.

Teaching Techniques For the Classroom and Home

Parents and teachers use a number of teaching techniques to encourage children with autism to learn language, speech, social skills and academics. Teaching techniques appropriate for home or the classroom include the following:

  • Visual learning aids: Many students with autism learn better with visual aids due to difficulties understanding verbal instruction. Visual supports should accompany lessons to help illustrate ideas. In fact, picture cards, such as the Picture Exchange Communication System, can help nonverbal children with autism learn how to communicate.
  • Structured learning environment: A structured learning environment, similar to the TEACCH method, can help students with autism better focus and understand lessons. Structured learning environments have minimal distraction with clearly defined boundaries, and provide concise step-by-step instructions for tasks with specific goals.
  • Sign language: Sign language is an effective method for teaching nonverbal children with autism because they respond well to hand motions.
  • Peer tutoring and inclusion: Many schools practice inclusion, which educates autistic students in the same classroom as nonautistic students. The idea is that the student with autism learns faster and adapts appropriate social behavior by observing her peers. Peer tutoring is one-to-one teaching method often practiced in inclusion schools. In a structured environment, a nonaustic student leads an autistic student through a number of tasks with concise instructions.
  • Facilitated communication: Facilitated communication (FC) involves a teacher physically guiding an autistic student to learn and communicate. The teacher will hold onto the student's arm or hand to assist them in pushing the keys on the computer to communicate.

Educational Therapy Techniques

Therapists and parents can use educational therapy techniques to teach their autistic children social, communication and academic skills. The following educational therapy techniques are used by therapists to teach students with autism:

  • Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-Handicapped Children (TEACCH): The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's TEACCH method is a structured teaching program that provides a learning environment with a strict schedule, succinct instructions and visual aids. TEACCH techniques are easy to tailor to each student's specific needs.
  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and Applied Verbal Behavior (AVB): ABA and AVB are reward system teaching techniques, which using positive reinforcement for good behavior. The teacher works one-on-one with the student and provides short, concise instructions. A student receives a reward for a correct response. AVB is a form of ABA that focuses on language development and encouraging speech with rewards.
  • Relationship Development Intervention (RDI): RDI is a relationship building therapy that improves social interaction and communication skills through one-to-one sessions between the child with autism and another person. The therapy usually begins with encouraging interaction between the parent and child and then moves onto include other people to encourage relationships. RDI focuses on nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions and body language, and social interaction, such as sharing and encouraging empathy.
  • Sensory Integration Therapy: Sensory integration therapy helps children with sensory or repetitive behavior issues improve sensory processing in problem areas. Therapists use games or activities that help the child better process stimuli, such as swinging or playing in specially designed sensory rooms.
  • Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship Building Model / Floortime (DIR): DIR or Floortime, developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan, is child-led interaction and play with parents or therapists. Taking cues from the child's actions, the parents encourage social interaction, communication and language at the child's current level of development. Floortime helps to develop a social skills, speech, understanding of other's emotions and foster intimacy between parents and children.

Online Autism Teaching Resources

The following online resources can help parents and teachers learn teaching techniques for students with autism spectrum disorder:

  • Temple Grandin's Teaching Tips: Temple Grandin, a famous autism activist and professor at Colorado State University, who also has autism, shares her advice for how to teach children with autism. She mentions the teaching techniques that worked for her, such as visual aids and structured learning environments.
  • Autism Web: Autism Web, an autism resource site for parents, provides a detailed description of autism teaching methods.
  • Do2Learn: The Do2Learn site has free learning activities that use teaching techniques such as picture cards, songs, games and art projects.

Reaching Students with Autism

Finding the right teaching technique for each child with autism may take some time. Here are some helpful tips for parents and teachers to help reach autistic students:

  • Incorporate areas of interest into the lesson plan.
  • Respect sensory issues when developing the learning environment.
  • Use games, songs and art to teach lessons, when possible.
  • Use positive reinforcement to encourage correct answers and good behavior. Praise your child and her know that you are proud of her.
  • Stick to the child's routine. Children with autism prefer strict routines.

The right teaching techniques for students with autism spectrum disorder will produce positive results. However, your child may have good days and bad days. Keep working with your child and know that you are making progress.

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Teaching Techniques for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder