A few weeks ago, I wrote a list of typical characteristics exhibited by students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). In this post, I will provide a list of interventions and strategies to help teachers make their classroom Autism-friendly. As with all of my other articles, I must remind my dear readers that students with Autism are very different from each other, hence some of these strategies may not apply to all of them. My advice is to ‘personalize’ each of these strategies based on your students’ personalities, skill-set, social and academic abilities. It is also helpful to keep a written record of the interventions you have put in place and their effectiveness (or lack thereof). This will help you plan future interventions, and will also serve as evidence for annual reviews and/ or school inspections.
RULES AND REWARDS
- Define classroom rules as early as possible. Boundaries should be clear and concise. Make sure that all rules are fair to everyone in the classroom and that are any ‘special’ arrangements made for students with ASD are explained to mainstream students. Click here for a useful explanation of fairness.
- Reinforce rules with pictures and words that are clearly visible to the students.
- Establish a reward system. Rewards could be visible for everyone, or only to individual students.
PLACE IN THE CLASSROOM
- Keep them away from the classroom doors as they may be distracted by people coming in and out of the class (more than your average student).
- Keep them away from windows – passers-by are distracting enough for others.
- If you are in a mainstream school, especially primary school, your classroom may be full of colourful posters and displays which could be very distracting to students with ASD. Make sure you place students with ASD in a seat where they are not in front of any colourful displays.
- Make sure that they sit next to a good role model. Being seated next to a student who is hyperactive, talkative or just generally unpredictable can be very unsettling to students with ASD.
- Establish a permanent space or spot for your students with ASD would sit everytime your class have Circle time and Carpet time. This aids predictability.
- Most people with Autism prefer visual representations, especially of timetables. It is useful to have individual Visual timetables for students with ASD. It helps them organize their day and it helps them predict what will happen next. Physically putting pictures on visual timetables at the start of every school day helps students prepare themselves for the day ahead. Below are a few examples of how visual timetables could look like (taken from asdteacher):
- Make sure that any change in the students’ or the class’ routine is represented in their timetables. Make sure that such changes are explained, too.
- Non-verbal students may be helped by introducing PECS, or Picture Exchange Communication System. In simple terms, PECS is communication through pictures, i.e. students show their teachers a picture of what they want (e.g. the toilet) and the teacher honours that request.
- Make sure that you have their attention before communicating with them. Make sure you call on their names everytime you want to speak to them.
- Do not demand eye contact. People with Autism struggle to give eye-contact for various different reasons. It has been suggested that quite a lot of them are not able to process Auditory and Visual stimuli simultaneously. Others found that eye-contact is avoided when people with ASD are thinking and/ or concentrating.
- Use concrete language. Keep it simple and straight to the point.
- Be careful with metaphors, sarcasm and irony. People with ASD have a very literal understanding of language (a good example of this is Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper– videos). Most of them may not get phrases like ‘Pull your socks up’, or ‘Toast the Bride’. I remember this one student of mine a few years back who was extremely puzzled when I told him to ‘Hold that Thought’.
- Explain everything that has a double meaning.
- Allow extra processing time. The National Autistic Society recommends practitioners to wait at least six seconds before repeating an instruction (Six-second rule).
- Teachers, parents and students should all be involved in planning interventions. A healthy relationship between schools and parents are an excellent platform for success.
- Keep a home-school diary to increase communication with parents and to ensure that interventions are followed-through.
More on Autism:
Autism in the classroom:
Inspiring People with Autism:
More on Savants: