Autism – Tips for Educators

Help Students with Autism achieve greater success in academic performance and social participation

Autism is a developmental disability that affects how the brain functions Autism often impairs social skills development and communication. Occupational Therapists work together with the school system to help students with autism to access, progress, and participate in the curriculum. They help students achieve success in academic performance and social participation for the duration of the school day.

What Can an Educator Do?

Ease Transitions

  • Provide visual cues throughout the school day to prepare a student for changes in routine.  Ex: Social stories can be introduced to rehearse and familiarize the student with concepts, schedules, and activities. Preliminary studies have shown that social stories are effective in defining appropriate behaviors (Reynhout & Carter, 2006). Picture boards also provide visual prompts to support students with communication difficulties.
  • Incorporate activities and/or objects to help redirect the student’s focus and bridge the transition from one event to another. Asking the student to lead the class down the hallway, turn off the classroom lights, or hold the hallway pass provides the student with a leadership opportunity.  It also provides the student with a meaningful, cooperative task that benefits the whole class.
  • Use daily written schedules, logs or checklists to increase the predictability of events for the student, which may reduce stress. Implications from preliminary studies are that increasing the predictability of activities and presenting information in shorter increments allows the student to more effectively engage in tasks.

Monitor Sensory Needs

  • Observe the child to see if he seeks sensory experiences in the classroom or if he avoids these opportunities. For example, some children may appear overwhelmed by bright lights, strong smells from the cafeteria, or working with sticky substances like glue. Share your observations with the occupational therapy practitioner and then collaborate to choose activities and equipment that will help the student manage sensory experiences. Findings from a systematic review indicate sensory interventions may result in positive behavioral effects in students (Baranek, 2002).
  • Design a space in the classroom that enables the student to reduce sensory input such as loud sounds from school bells or loudspeaker announcements. A quiet corner that includes a tent, blanket, earphones for music, or beanbag chair may calm a student who may be experiencing too much stimulation. Findings from a systematic review support modifying the classroom environment proactively to calm students before they could become over-stimulated.

Address Mental Health Needs

  • Provide chances throughout school to manage feelings in suitable ways. Ex., a picture of a traffic light can cue students to self-monitor and then strategize appropriate behavior through social stories and role-playing (Reynhout & Carter, 2006).
  • Implement a rewards system that reinforces positive behaviors. Establish a firm method through a logbook or chart in collaboration with the family (Wilkinson, 2008). This positive feedback will enhance the student’s self-esteem.

Develop Peer Relationships

  • Build friendships through tasks that involve sharing or pairing up with a buddy. Preliminary studies have shown that spending time in the presence of typically developing peers who can serve as models of behavior may increase positive interaction (Smith, Lovaas, & Lovaas, 2002). Create classroom activities that get everyone involved such as a letter writing campaign, bake sale or create a class journal or yearbook. Engage the child in tasks which result in interaction such as distributing books or papers during class time or playground equipment during recess.
  • Incorporate music and art into activities to build communication skills and align them with the student’s interests and ability. Work with a range of specialized instructional support personnel to choose appropriate activities such as participating in a play or painting a mural as a class project. Findings from a systematic review indicate that art activities can be an effective way to facilitate social interaction among students (Jackson & Arbesman, 2005).

 Links:
AOTA.org

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