We know that statistically, 1 in 68 people will be diagnosed with Autism. As medicine and diagnostic techniques have advanced, we are able to identify these people earlier and earlier, allowing for interventions and support to be established more quickly. This statistic also means that, given an ‘average’ school, there is at least one child with autism per grade level. While we, as SLPs, can see these children fairly frequently depending on the amount of support they need, but they may be spending most of their time in the gen. ed classroom ( depending on abilities of course ). So here are some tips you can share with your classroom teacher on how to communicate and create a positive setting for students with Autism.
1. Keep it simple
Keep language in the classroom simple. I am not saying teachers need to ‘dumb things down’, but try to avoid using sarcasm or figurative language too much. These aspects of language can be difficult for students with Autism to understand. Teachers should try and get their message across concisely to these students, in a direct way.
2. Post rules and expecations.
Sometimes students with Autism don’t understand the specific social rules and expectations of the classroom. Have them posted some where for reference so the student can be referred to them if need to be reminded that in your classroom they must raise their hand to speak. Also, review what ‘finished’ and other potentially abstract expectations mean. We know ‘finished’ work is when all the questions are answered or everything has been done for the assignment. ‘Finished’ to a student with Autism may be that they have done as much as the feel like, or as much as they could tolerate, and want to no longer do the assignment.
3. Looks can be deceiving
Remind your teachers, politely of course, that looks can be deceiving. I have had some very high-functioning students with Autism who you really couldn’t pick out of the class when you looked in. It wasn’t until you had a conversation with them could you pick up on something being a bit different. Just because a student doesn’t look impaired or demonstrate those ‘typical’ traits of Autism, doesn’t mean they don’t struggle to get through the day. They still need to be treated with the same mindset and understanding that they would afford someone whose difficulties were more apparent. This means maybe taking a breathe when the student responds in a blunt way after the teacher has jokingly asked them for their honest opinion.
4. Partner up
Maybe it was just me, but I hated have to find a partner in class. I was painfully shy, so this was always tough. Students with Autism may not understand the best ways to ask if someone wants to be a partner, or worse, they maybe excluded and left out because the other students don’t want to be with them or are uncomfortable around them. Students with Autism may have a hard time understanding non-verbal cues, but they can get that everyone has a pattern and they are alone. See if the teacher is open to using different methods of partnering kids for activities. This still provides the student with Autism practice on working with another person and it can give those other students some experience on how to work with this particular classmate. Most people shy away from someone with a disability because they are different and they don’t understand why. By having the student partner with different kids, it can help the whole class understand the student better and perhaps ease some of those nerves.
If the teacher asks the student a question and is met with a blank stare there are 2 things that should can be done. First, remind the teacher to give them time, at least 8 seconds, to respond. The student maybe processing the question and other information in order to formulate a response and it is important not to keep asking them the question as this might start to overwhelm them. Second, rephrase the question. If that time limit has passed an their is no response still, rephrase the question, something probably may have gotten lost in translation.
6. Sometimes we just need to roll with it
We know students with Autism need some things in their day worked a bit differently and that we need to just go with it sometimes. Make sure the teacher knows that they student may need some adaptations to their time in the classroom, like sensory breaks. Perhaps they can only do their work standing at their desk or in one particular corner. These behaviors may appear odd and against the classroom norm, but as long as they are not disrupting the classroom environment or students, its ok to let them be. Especially if they are getting the work done.
For more tips on how to communicate with someone with Autism you can check this post.
These are just a few, and there are sooo many more. Do you as SLPs, or teachers, have any tips or words of wisdom you want to pass on about working with students with Autism?