Things to explain to a teacher about autism

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With some frequency, they invite me from a school to tell them about autism. The reason is always the same: every time they have more children in class affected by an ASD and want to know more. It is a joy that they want to learn, that they are determined to do things better every day, that they want to help their students even more. The starting point for writing this post has been diverse information:the blog Quirks and Chaos written by Lisa Smith, a mother of seven children, two of them with special needs and the advice provided by Pat Hensley, a retired teacher and Ellen Notbohm. As on other occasions, I integrate your comments, I contribute my experience and try to adapt it to our reality, which is not always the same as a class in the United States. Many teachers know these things well but nobody better than them knows that a review always comes well and maybe for others it can be useful. These are the key messages:

Autism is a spectrum disorder. It means that there is a lot of variability from one child to another. Teachers who have had a child in a class with autism already have an idea of what is going on but it is important to be clear that not all children with ASD are the same and that they will have to adapt to that particular child. What for a child worked last year may not be this way and vice versa. The parents will like you to ask them about their child, they will value your disposition and their information will help you to make the class better.

Behavior is communication. Negative behavior can be a form of complaint, an attempt to get out of a situation where you feel overwhelmed or need an answer. No child wants to behave badly. Try to find the cause, it may be useful to write down what happened before that change in behavior, what people were with, the time of day, the context … It is ideal if you can find a guideline that helps you prevent or avoid it.

Adapt what you can to your learning. Take advantage, as with any other child, their strengths and their peculiarities. Any ideas:

  • Organize things step by step, in order, with a sequenced sequence, everything well specified.
  • Give very clear instructions. It is better, “leave the pencils, close the notebooks and stand in line to go out into the yard” that “Today is very good. We’re going to give the class away. As soon as you finish writing, leave what you are doing and go to the exit ». Do not take anything for granted. You may have heard the instructions but you may not understand them. It is possible that yesterday it was clear and today no longer.
  • Explain clearly when the task is finished. Some people take a picture of how it should look and show it to the student (this is how the paintings should look when you finish). Using images is often a good idea and very easy to do with our mobile phones.
  • Address him in the first person and individually. He may not understand that an instruction for the whole class is also for him. You may need more practice than other children to master some tasks.
  • He uses different systems to teach him: visual images, guiding his hand, a companion that serves as an example … repeating the information is not bad.
  • Ask closed questions better than open ones. It works better if you say “Do you want to read or draw?” To ask “What do you want to do now?”
  • Give few options. If you have to choose something, a story, you have to do it between two or three, not the whole shelf.
  • Routines and pre-alerts are often useful for a boy with ASD. The flexibility, the patience, the ability to adapt are necessary skills for everyday life, but the boys with autism generally do not have the sudden changes, the surprises, the alterations in the expected. Things like a new teacher or an unscheduled exit can cause anxiety or a tantrum. Notifying you as soon as possible of any new plan and giving you several prior notices before you start a new activity can be good suggestions.
  • They tend to work much better than positive reinforcements punishments but usually always so right?
  • Do not make a bad behavior worse. Correct him with delicacy.
  • A visual scheme, a calendar or a schedule with images can be very useful tools to keep you well focused.
  • Explore, if possible, the world of computers. They can be a great help (do not get tired) in some tasks.
  • And always, patience.

Children with autism require extra time to process verbal instructions . They need a clear language and with short sentences, very basic instructions, one or two steps and a period of a few seconds after asking a question to answer. If you see that you have to repeat the question, do not formulate it in another way, because then the processing of what you have said returns to the exit box. Repeat simply and calmly the same words. Trying to respond more agilely, to hurry, the only thing that will normally do is make him go slower.

A break can be a great help. A boy with ASD can benefit from having a quiet place to retire and self-regulate. In ideal circumstances it can be a quiet corner, with cushions and carpet, with some book and an mp3 with headphones with some favorite music. After relaxing a bit, you can return to class assignments.

The understanding of language and verbal expression are two different things. Many children with autism understand much more than their teachers think and may not be able to express everything they really want to say. Sometimes, on the contrary, he is able to recite long and complex sentences but without really understanding anything of what he is saying. You need to interact with him and explore to see what he really understands and what he needs to come back to.

Children with ASD are literal.It costs them a lot, always in general, figurative language, abstract thinking, anything resembling a metaphor. If on an excursion you say “take my rhythm”, the other students will understand without a problem that they have to walk a little faster and follow your step but it is possible that this child will start looking for the “rhythm” on the ground. It happens continuously and although there are fun times, there are others that are frustrating. Beware of phrases such as “talk by the elbows” or “rest on their laurels.” They do not usually understand sarcasm. If you pass the papers and say “Great!” When you pass by your desk, you may think that you have done something right and will try to repeat it. It also happens with questions that are really instructions. That is, if you say “Do you want to read the next page?”, The answer may be “no”. If you want to read, tell it and better for everyone. A phrase like “you have left the desk very messy”, for him it is the description of a fact and from there it does not necessarily infer that he has to order it.

Children with autism focus on a topic. Many boys with ASD have “their subject”. They may want to talk about it for hours and it will not be easy to get them out of there. Many times they are topics that have no interest for the other children, neither for the teacher nor for anyone. The preferred subject can sometimes be used as a lever to learn things (instead of adding apples you can add dinosaurs if that is your subject), or as a reward after completing a task (you can open the book of dinosaurs for a while), but The most normal thing is that it distracts him from what he has to do in class because he is less interested in returning to his subject.

Children with ASD need help in their social interactions. Many times these boys seem to have no interest in their peers and if left “there” they will not learn the basic social skills that are fundamental to their lives. The school is an ideal environment and in some things it has conditions that can not be reproduced at home.

  • Teach and exercise basic social skills such as waiting for turns, sharing or social distance.
  • Allow him also to stay out of some activities, such as sports or games that may be difficult to understand or not at all pleasant for him.
  • Be careful not to be harassed or bullied.

Sometimes there are sensory problems.  Some children with autism may have hypersensitivity to visual stimuli (very powerful lighting), hearing (the hum of a refrigerator or fluorescent, some electrical device such as a pencil sharpener or the aquarium aerator), olfactory (smells of food, street …) or tactile (textures). You can try to modify what surrounds you, change its location, see if it is better. Occupational therapists can help to make the classroom more pleasant by attending to those sensory stimuli. Try to eliminate distractors.

Children with ASD have stereotypes . Stereotypies are stereotyped movements or repeated behaviors that may seem very rare to your peers. They usually occur when you are excited, bored or stressed. The attention and guidance during the time you are at school will make them less frequent.

It may be useful to explain to your classmates what autism is.  It is about explaining to their classmates, in a way that is logically adapted to their age and better with the agreement of their parents, the basic things of ASD:

  • That we are all unique and different from others.
  • That autism is a birth thing that nobody is to blame.
  • That except in some particularities in almost everything is one more of the class.
  • It is not that he behaves badly but that autism is noticed in doing some things differently.
  • It is hard for him to do some homework, communicate and make friends, so we all have to make a little more effort and be understanding and good companions.
  • That there is nothing to be scared or worry about.

Children with autism say things as they see them. He can tell you in public that you have to lose weight or that you have a strange smell. Do not take it personally, never want to offend or hurt. The best solution is always good humor.

The rest of the staff can also be of great help. The bus driver, the lunchroom staff, the students at the practicum … all of them can also learn and lend a hand.

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