Preschoolers with autism have some specific educational needs in addition to the standard preschool curriculum. Lesson plans that focus on sensory integration, communication, social skills, and behavior can help education professionals and parents target the special needs that come with autism spectrum disorders.
Five Free Lesson Plans for Preschoolers on the Autism Spectrum
A lesson plan is a set of organized educational activities with specific goals. These five printable lesson plans are perfect for preschoolers of all developmental levels, and they include accommodations for non-verbal or lower functioning children.
If you need help downloading the printables, check out these helpful tips.
Thumbs Up Texture Exploration
For many children on the autism spectrum, sensory experiences can be disturbing or very enticing. Exploring different textures helps kids expand the range of sensory experiences they can tolerate. This lesson plan also uses the thumbs up or thumbs down sign so kids can begin to label their sensory experiences as good or bad. Using gestures to communicate in this way also furthers language goals.
To use this lesson in the classroom, you'll need fabrics and materials in several different textures. Children will experience each texture and determine how they feel about it.
Let's Pretend to Be Farm Animals
Pretend play can be a major challenge for many preschoolers with autism. While their peers are playing house or race car, children on the spectrum may be sitting alone doing a solo activity. Pretend play skills, such as making believe children are animals, are essential for social development. In addition, this lesson plan is great for non-verbal children. Sometimes, making animal noises can be a first step toward more advanced language.
For this lesson, you'll need a few supplies, including animal headbands or hats, plastic toy animals, recorded animal noises, and a bucket for assigning animals to kids.
My Turn, Your Turn
Taking turns can be hard for any preschooler, but it's especially challenging for children on the spectrum. This lesson plan uses direct rewards to encourage turn-taking behavior. Turn-taking is an important social skill, which kids will use when they play with peers. It's also very important in building language, since communicative interactions involve taking turns too.
This lesson plan uses minimal materials, most of which are readily available in every classroom. You'll need bean bags for tossing, some tape to make lines on the carpet, and some small treats to use as rewards.
Shared Sensory Sorting
Categorizing objects can be both fun and challenging for preschoolers with autism, and it's an important skill to learn. In addition, kids will work on their social skills and fine motor skills in this enjoyable activity for partners. An adult facilitates the activity for each pair of children.
For this lesson, you'll need a sensory table or large bin with rice in it, as well as small objects in two different colors. You'll also need buckets to match the colors of the objects and small treats to use as rewards.
Good Ways to Be Angry
Angry feelings can be hard for any preschool child to manage, but children with autism have more opportunities to feel frustrated. From limited communication abilities to the mystifying world of social interaction, there are a number of challenges that can trigger angry feelings. Teaching kids what to do with those feelings can help manage behavior.
For this lesson, you'll need a copy of the book Llama Llama Mad at Mama by Anna Dewdney. Kids will talk about the way the little llama handles his anger and offer suggestions for different approaches.
More Resources for Lesson Plans
There are a few sites that specialize in teaching preschoolers with autism. You can find lesson plans and other helpful educational tools.
Practical Autism Resources
Practical Autism Resources has a large selection of free worksheets, lesson plans and printable picture cards. You'll find free printable lesson plans focused on building associations, labeling, receptive vocabulary, and more. There are also iPad-based lesson plans to integrate technology in your curriculum. This site is easy to navigate and offers a good range of helpful resources.
Cindy's Autistic Support
Cindy's Autistic Support has free lesson plans and advice for teaching children with autism. The site is easy to navigate by clicking on the categories in which you're interested. Lesson plans focus on life skills, safety, symbols, and many other important topics. You'll also find free printable worksheets to go with some of the lessons, as well as information on inclusion of ASD children in the regular education classroom.
Positively Autism is an e-magazine that has a resource section with information and free educational tools and lesson plans. The lesson plan section is divided by topic area, so it's easy to find exactly what you need. In addition to a great selection of plans focused on behavior, community, and social skills, there's a section on academics that's specialized for children on the autism spectrum.
Tips for Success
Early intervention is essential to any child's progress. A November 2009 University of Washington Seattle study on early intervention found that working with ASD children as young as 18 months can significantly improve language, IQ, and social skills. Whether you're an early childhood special education teacher, a therapist, or a parent who is working with her child, keep these tips in mind:
- Use the child's interests to determine the best type of activities and lessons for him or her.
- Decide what your goals are for the lessons and how the lessons will lead to the goals.
- Make a lesson plan schedule that is compatible with the child's current routine.
- Choose lesson plans that are appropriate for the child's age and developmental level.
A Great Tool
Lesson plans that target specific challenges are a great tool for teaching preschoolers with autism in the special education setting, regular classroom, or at home. No matter where you're working with these children, they will benefit from this type of targeted, intensive lesson planning.