Autism is a spectrum of conditions which affect different areas of people’s lives. Since its manifestation is very different from one person to the next, it is very difficult to tell whether a child has it or not, especially in the classroom. Students who have Autism but is not diagnosed are often labelled as ‘stupid’, ‘lazy’, or ‘odd’, amongst other things, which could lead to many different negative consequences such as bullying, and/ or depression. Therefore, it is important for teachers and teaching assistants to know what signs to look out for in order to determine whether a child needs to be referred to professionals to be assessed and diagnosed.
Below are a few common characteristics which majority of students with Autism present.Having worked with people of various ages (3-16 y/o) who have been diagnosed with Autism for a long time, I have noticed that they display some common behavioural patterns (AGAIN, REMEMBER THAT AUTISM IS A SPECTRUM OF CONDITIONS). I must warn you that this list is only a guideline and not an official diagnostic criteria. PLEASE NOTE that it is easy to go down the road of ‘home-based diagnosis’ and that teachers must remember not to do so.It is also important to remember that Autism manifests in different ways, therefore the magnitude of each characteristic, and the combination of characteristics WILL vary from one person to another. Students who exhibit these characteristics should be referred to the school’s Special Educational Needs Coordinator (or equivalent). I always tell my colleagues at work that it is better to flag up a student as possibly having Autism (or another Special Need) and be proven wrong, than to ignore the signs and risk not getting the right help and interventions for the student.
Here is the list of characteristics/ behaviours:
- Makes very little or no eye-contact. Some children may give eye contact but would only look at you from the corner of their eyes.
- Can only understand questions (even simple ones such as what the weather is), when phrased in a specific way. If certain words or if the sentence structure is changed, despite the meaning staying the same, they will appear clueless and may not give any response.
- Has difficulties imagining a situation or ‘putting themselves in other people’s shoes’.
- Takes spoken language literally and has a very limited understanding (if at all) of metaphors. If told ‘would you like to come and sit on the carpet?’ because it is carpet time, a students with Autism may respond with ‘No’.
- Instead of talking to people, they talk AT them. Conversations are led by them all the time, and the topics only revolve around the things that they like. They may lose interest (or ignore you) if you speak about something that they do not find interesting.
- Finds it difficult to read facial expressions and emotions.
- Displays inappropriate emotions. May laugh even if someone’s crying. May ignore someone’s cry for help.
- Does not obey your instructions unless their name is mentioned or unless you are talking to them face-to-face.
- Gets upset when routines change, e.g. when a lesson is cancelled, when a substitute teacher is taking the lesson or when moved seats.
- Repeats phrases they have heard, even inappropriate ones.
- Has little or no interest in seeking out other children to play with or interact with.
- Play with toys in an unusual way, e.g. instead of rolling cars to pretend they are real cars, students with Autism may line them up.
- May be overly fascinated by patterns or strong visual stimuli, e.g. brightly coloured poster on the corner of your classroom wall.
- Can be overly active or much less physically active than their same-age peers.
- Develpmental milestones may be achieved in a pattern that is not the same as everyone else– can be noticed when placing them on Profile Points level (England, UK).
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