Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is a developmental condition that affects people’s Social and Communication development. In addition people with ASD exhibit Restricted and Repetitive Interests and Behaviours. Since ASD affects 1 in 88 of individuals, there is a big chance that every teacher would have at least one student affected by the condition in his/ her career.
Although people’s awareness of ASD have increased over the years, and teach training nowadays provide an overview of what Autism is, and how it affects individuals, meeting a student with ASD for the first time can be a cause of anxiety to teachers (and the students, of course!).
Here are a few strategies that I have learned over the course of my working years with ASD students:
Preparing the student before the first day:
There is a huge chance that you will know in advance that there will be a student (or students) with ASD who will be joining your class. Here’s what you could do:
- Gather as much background information as possible! Information about students should be available from medical professionals, previous schools and parents. Find out what triggers anxiety and problem behaviours.
- Questions you should ask: What does he like to talk about? What is he afraid of? Does he respond better to a man or a woman? How is his speech? Is there a colour, sound, smell he does not like?
- Take pictures of the school, dining hall, your classroom, yourself and if possible, the other students. Give these photos to his parents or his current teachers and ask them to let the child know that this is the environment that they will be in very soon. This helps prepare the child mentally and will reduce, if not eliminate, anxiety.
- Invite the parents and the child to the school ahead of transfer. If the children are moving up a year/ grade in the same school, invite them to your classroom. Have a one-to-one meeting with the child to allow them to familiarise with you and the classroom.
- Let the children know EXPLICITLY what is expected of them. Give a paper copy of your classroom rules to the children and display a copy of it on your classroom.
- If at all possible, provide the parents with the school year’s curriculum plan. This way, the parents would be able to tell their children what topic areas will be discussed at what week/ month.
- Create a picture schedule/ timetable to help establish a daily routine. Students with ASD prefer a predictable day-to-day routine. A change in any subject or teacher or activity must be relayed to the child.
- Prepare your classroom. Give the student his own desk and give him the freedom to decorate it to make him feel that he is in control of at least some aspect of his environment.
During the first meeting:
- Avoid drinking coffee and wearing perfume. It may sound ridiculous to some but there are students with ASD who are extremely sensitive to certain smells. Drinking coffee and wearing perfume are some of the things that you can control which may potentially lessen the child’s anxiety.
- If the child is capable of talking but is not responding to you initially, try to be in the same physical level. In other words, if he is sitting down, sit on a smaller chair, so that his eyes are parallel to yours. If he is playing on the floor, sit on the floor. Make him feel as comfortable as possible.
- Let him talk about Spiderman or Star Wars at the beginning, if he wants to. People with ASD who are verbal have the tendency to talk a lot about their interests passionately. You must let them do this, again to make them feel comfortable.
- 10 Second Rule- some people with ASD need more time to process information, especially during conversations. Wait for at least 10 seconds before repeating an unanswered question.
There you have it! Good luck!
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