Autism and Education
Many parents and teachers have questions about autism and education. Creating an environment that is conducive for learning should be approached on an individual basis but many standard instruction techniques apply to a number of different children. Teaching strategies for children with autism can benefit the entire classroom in many cases. In some cases, it may be necessary to put the autistic student in an autism support classroom.
Teaching Autistic Students
Many children on the autism spectrum have average or above average intelligence. The challenge is getting the student to demonstrate understanding. The ability to take in information may not be lacking but the student may lack the ability to communicate that he comprehends the concepts.
Learning style is a factor to consider and while many students on the spectrum may tend to be visual learners, some may learn by doing (kinesthetic learners). One critical aspect to consider when teaching a student with autism is the challenges with processing information. A typical child is able to put different sources of input together to make connections while an autistic student may tend to take in one element at a time:
If a teacher points at a tree and says, "Tree" a typical student processes the pointing gesture together with the image of the tree and the spoken word. A child with autism may process only one:
- The word "tree"
- The pointing gesture
- The image of the tree
Most likely, the child with autism will only process the image. Teaching strategies have to teach the child how to make connections between the different elements, the gesture, spoken word and the image, to be successful. This begins with breaking down concepts into small, digestible parts.
One of the biggest obstacles with the topic of autism and education is social interaction with peers. Recess can be a source of great stress for a student on the spectrum because there is little or no structure during this segment of the school day. In addition, poor social skills combined with sensory problems can lead to problems on the playground.
Problems with communication, sensory processing and behavior can interfere with learning and they can be a distraction for the entire classroom. While inclusion is the ideal, it may not be the most effective approach for all students. The child's treatment team can work with the school to determine which classroom setting is best while developing an Individual Education Plan.