If you're a parent of a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), obtaining a great public or private education and excellent therapy for your child, while important, is only part of your job. You also need to follow through with therapy tasks at home and continue educating your child within the home setting. This can be challenging, but with a few important considerations, you can take on this important role in your child's education.
How to Teach Your ASD Child at Home
According to a study in the journal Autism, parents' home involvement in their children's therapy and education is considered a "best practice." This means that your involvement is essential to giving your child every advantage. However, figuring out how to teach your child effectively at home can be a little more challenging.
Set Measurable and Specific Goals
Just as the professional educators do at your child's school during the IEP meeting, you should sit down and outline a few goals for your child. These may be home-based goals, such as those involving table manners or interactions with siblings, or they may be school- or community-based goals. You may also choose to focus on following through with therapy routines your child is currently working on. No matter what you select, keep these guidelines in mind:
- You should focus on only a few goals at a time. Limit yourself to three or four goals, and then replace those when your child achieves them.
- Your goals should be very specific. Instead of "improve table manners," think about "learn to use a fork."
- Your goals should be something you can measure and record. That way, you'll know whether you child is meeting them.
Know Your Child's Learning Style
Not everyone learns the same way. Some people learn new things best when they hear them out loud. Others prefer to read. Some like to use their hands to learn. For many kids on the spectrum, the preferred method of learning is visual. This means that pictures and videos are a great way to get your point across.
Keep in mind, though, that your child may not learn this way. Even on the autism spectrum, trends don't provide a solid guideline for how to teach. Think about how your child chooses to interact with her world. Does your child love computer games and videos? If so, she may be a visual learner. What about reading or listening to books? This type of child may be auditory. Use this strength to help your child learn best at home.
Talk to Teachers and Therapists
Your child's teachers and therapists have lots of important training that helps them identify where your child needs help and come up with strategies. However, as the parent, you may know of problem areas that the professionals don't see. In addition, these professionals only work with your child for a few hours of each day. You see your child for much more.
Once you've established your goals and figured out how your child learns best, talk to the teachers and therapists about ideas for working on them. Take notes, and choose the strategies that make sense for your situation. Come up with your own strategies too. You can also buy lesson plans to help your child succeed.
Establish a Plan for Teaching
As a parent of a special needs child, you know how difficult it can be to juggle all of the demands on your time. Taking your child to appointments alone can eat up hours of the day. Often, a day can slip by in which you haven't had time to work on your goals. A plan can help.
Now that you know what your goals are and have some strategies for working on those goals, you need to make a plan for when you'll do that. This could be as simple as blocking out an hour or two on your family calendar. You can also incorporate your teaching into your regular home routines. Either way, mark the time on your calendar or planner to make sure it happens.
It's also important to keep track of your child's progress. In addition to helping you feel positive and hopeful, this will allow you to make adjustments. If your child doesn't seem to be making progress on a goal, the goal may be too difficult. Try taking a couple of steps back. Alternatively, your method might not be working. You could try some different approaches.
If you child has met one of her goals, you can replace it with a new one. That way, you'll always have something to work on.
Your child works hard, both at school or therapy and at home. It's important to reward her progress with plenty of praise, small treats or stickers, and fun outings. Be consistent in your rewards. That way, your child will know that she is doing well.
Don't forget to give yourself a pat on the back too. After all, you're working just as hard as your child.
Tips to Consider
Dr. Temple Grandin has had autism all her life. At the age of two and a half, she began working with teachers and her parents to overcome some of her challenges. According to Dr. Grandin, these are some important techniques to use when teaching children with autism:
- Use the child's special interest to help motivate her. Choose this topic for games and books, as well as for rewards.
- Working on handwriting is important, but it can be frustrating. Consider allowing your child to type on the computer instead.
- Eliminate sensory distractions like bright lights or load buzzers or beeps. Consider speaking in a whisper if it helps your child attend to the topic.
- Consider using a weighted blanket or other sensory device to help your child concentrate during your work with her at home.
You're Doing Something Amazing
No matter what kind of progress your child makes on your goals, you're doing something amazing when you teach her at home. You're showing your support for your child and offering help when it comes to overcoming challenges. Your child will remember your efforts, and you'll see greater progress overall.