There are many methods that can be used in teaching autistic children. Some are better than others, but not all can work for each autistic child. One of the hardest factors in teaching autistic children is that each autistic child can have different levels or severity of autism that can make it quite difficult to teach an autistic child. There are several methods of educating toddlers and children with autism spectrum disorders. The most well-known, and researched, strategies include: Applied behavior analysis and applied verbal behavior, TEACCH, DIR/floor time, sensory integration therapy and relationship development intervention.
What is Autism?
Autism is a “complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others” (Autism Society of America, 1998). It causes impairment or disturbance in three main areas social skills, communicative (verbal as well as non-verbal) skills and in their repetitive and restricted behaviors. Autistic individuals may show abnormal responses to sensations. Any one or more of the senses may be affected. All these difficulties manifest themselves in behaviors, such as, abnormal ways of relating to people, objects and events in the environment.
A child with high functioning autism may have a normal or high I.Q., be able to attend a regular school and hold a job later in life. However, this person may have difficulty expressing themselves and may not know how to mix with other people. Moderately and more seriously affected children with autism will vary tremendously. Some autistic children do not ever develop speech, while others may develop speech but still have difficulty using language to communicate. Often, there is an unusual speech pattern, such as echoing whatever is said to them, repeating a word over and over, reversing “you” and “I” when asking for something, and speaking only to express needs, rather than emotions. Methods to teaching Autistic children in NYC Public
Teaching an autistic child can be much more difficult than teaching a child not on the autism spectrum. Autism presents many challenges that can be frustrating for teachers. “The most serious problem faced by any individual with a disability is the inability to perform the many skills necessary to function independently in the community. Delays in self-care, socialization, and language skills are among the most significant problems for teachers and parents who live and work with individuals with disabilities” (Koegel & Schreibam, n.d.). While there is no “cure” for autism, there are things that can be done to make teaching a child with autism easier and more successful. “Many early intervention curricular manuals recommend teaching auditory-visual conditional discriminations (i.e., receptive labeling) using the simple-conditional method in which component simple discriminations are taught in isolation and in the presence of a distracter stimulus before the learner is required to respond conditionally” (Grow, Carr, Kodak, Jostad & Kisamore, 2011). A conditional discrimination is a procedure in which only one of three or more stimuli differs from the others in some property (ex., color) and responses to the odd stimulus are reinforced. “A conditional discrimination involves four components: a sample stimulus, the presentation of comparison stimuli, a response, and a consequence” (Grow, Carr, Kodak, Jostad & Kisamore, 2011). In a trial during auditory-visual conditional discrimination training, the teacher presents an collection of two or three visual comparison stimuli (i.e., pictures of a bed, chair, and table). Second, the teacher delivers an auditory sample stimulus (i.e., “point to chair”). Third, the learner engages in a response (i.e., pointing to or touching one of the pictures) or is prompted to respond. Fourth, the teacher provides differential consequences for correct and incorrect responses.
This example of identifying an object from an collection after hearing its name is commonly referred to as receptive labeling or receptive identification. There are two forms of methods used to teach an Autistic child: Educational Therapy Methods and educational school methods. For educational therapy methods, therapists use a number of therapy methods to teach children with autism. Educational therapy includes: Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): The ABA teacher observes the behavior of a person with autism and then provides instructions on any necessary missing skills. The teachers teach by providing a concise instruction and reward a correct response. The reward system encourages the positive behavior. TEACCH: TEACCH is a structured teaching method that provides an organized school environment with a strict schedule, visual teaching methods and short, clear instructions. TEACCH programs can easily be personalized. Education therapy methods also include, Sensory Integration Therapy: Therapists use sensory integration therapy to help children with autism that has repetitive behavior or sensory issues. The therapy can help some children develop language skills.
Developmental, Individual Difference Floortime (DIR): DIR Floortime uses play to teach autistic children emotional engagement, how to connect ideas and focus attention as well as problem solving and self-expression. For educational school methods, schools use a number of different teaching methods to educate children with autism. American public schools are required by law to provide all children with disabilities with an individualized education plan (IEP). Even home schooled children are eligible for IEP plans. Teaching methods for autistic children include the following: Inclusion: Inclusion aka mainstreaming or integration is an approach for teaching autistic children in mainstream classes with children without disabilities. Some children have responded better to inclusive teaching than special education classes. However, some parents feel that the classes are too large and that their child does not receive enough necessary individual attention. Facilitated Communication: Facilitated communication refers to a teaching method where the teacher (facilitator) holds the autistic child’s hand or arm, which encourages the child to make an effort to push the appropriate key on a portable computer as a means of communication. Detractors argue that it is difficult to determine if the child or teacher is communicating.
However, the teaching method seems to have improved communication for some children with autism. Educational school methods also include, Picture Exchange Communication System: Picture Exchange Communication System uses visual aids for communication. Students and teachers exchange pictures to communicate ideas and activities. Sign language: Some school systems teach sign language to children with autism who have not developed speech skills. Sign language works well for many children with autism because they respond more to hand motions than a person’s face. Daily life therapy: Daily life therapy, a Japanese teaching method, adds a large amount of physical exercise to typical autism behavioral therapy routines. Students at both the Higashi School in Tokyo, Japan and the USA Higashi in Boston, Massachusetts have responded well to the teaching method. Autism in the Classroom
Teaching autistic students can be challenging. During my required course observations I was given the opportunity to work with special needs children from grades k-2nd where I met an exceptional first grade student, Ethan. He has mild to severe autism. He loved drawing, coloring, making beats, and reading. Students on the autism spectrum often have difficulty transitioning to new activities due to their lack of understanding and anxiety surrounding new situations. Autistic students also have attention and sensory needs that make it difficult for them to focus. In Ethan’s case it was hard for his teachers to pry him away from what he was doing either because he wasn’t finished or because he just didn’t want to begin something new. One approach to autism I believe all special needs educators should use is “visual cues.” Setting up a classroom with visual cues and schedules can decrease anxiety, increase independence, smooth out transitions and minimize challenging behaviors. Visual cues, minimum distractions, having a calm space and accommodating sensory needs are all ways to achieve a successful classroom for Autistic children. Simple visual cues and using furniture as boundaries can lessen an autistic student’s anxiety and help them to focus. Visual cues can include: a classroom schedule, picture labels for classroom supplies, clear boundaries for different learning areas. Children suffering from Autism become distracted very easily so as a teacher the way you set up your classroom is important.
Windows, the hallway or free time areas can cause lots of distractions. Stress, anxiety, and misunderstandings happen in the best classroom situations so be prepared and have a calming area for your autistic student. The calming area doesn’t have to be large; it can be as simple as a small corner behind a desk with a chair or beanbag, a weighted vest or lap pad, some noise cancelling headphones, a few fidgets and a visual timer. Weighted lap pads have said to also work for students who have fidgety or restless legs. Sitting discs or wedges also provide students with movement which can help them focus. Pay attention to fluorescent lighting because some students are very sensitive to this form of unnatural lighting.
Pay attention to noise. If your student is sensitive to noise keep them away from noisy areas of the classroom like the doorway, pencil sharpener. In the first grade special needs class I noticed they had a section of the room they called the “happy room,” which was considered the calming area. During my four observation days Ethan was sent to the “happy room” twice. Once for “acting out” and the other to just calm down from the turn of events happening that day. One of the most significant problems for people on the autism spectrum is difficulty in social interaction. “Children with autism typically are unresponsive to verbal initiations from others in community settings, and that such unresponsiveness can lead to problematic social interactions and severely disruptive behavior” (Koegel, Koegel, Hurley & Frea, 1992). In Ethan’s case, because of his drawing skills, he was well liked, even popular I would say. Everyone wanted to eat with him at lunch and sit with him in class. However, because of his Autism he is has trouble interacting with the other students. I noticed whenever I complimented on his drawing he merely looked at me all wide eyed and confused. The desire to belong pushes most people to learn whatever it takes to fit in is not something that are necessarily implicit in children with ASD. For some, this type of “social sense” may never be fully achieved. But in order for a child with ASD to grow into a well-adjusted adult, he must learn basic social functioning, even if he never gets to the point of emotional relatedness. Social skills are the entryway to all relationships that involve two or more people, from friend/friend and teacher/student to boss/employee and salesperson/customer. For this reason, it’s unfortunate that social skills acquisition is not automatically included as part of most children’s school curriculum. However, with guidance and persistence and the right training program, even the most emotionally challenged children can master effective peer interaction at every stage of the game, from the moments just before class starts and conversation in the lunchroom to locker room changing sessions and afternoon recess. Conclusion
It’s possible to find the right learning style for each autistic child for there are a number of educational therapy and teaching methods that consider the unique needs of autistic children. A person with autism generally has language, communications, social and cognitive skills problems. Due to these
difficulties, children with autism learn better with visual aids, imitation and structured environments that accommodate their sensory sensitivities and routines. The visual aids combined with demonstrations of different activities can help a child improve language skills. Interaction with other children can be encouraged through games, which allow some autistic children to accept a social interaction. A structured environment can make the child feel secure and more open to learning.
Grow, L., Carr, J., Kodak, T., Jostad, C., & Kisamore, A. (2011.). A Comparison of Methods for Teaching Receptive labeling to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.
Koegel, L. K., Koegel, R. L., Hurley, C., & Frea, W. E. (1992). Improving social skills and disruptive behavior in children with autism through self-management. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25, 341–353.
Koegel, R., & Schreibam, L. (n.d.). How to Teach Children with Autism and Other Severe Disabilities. Idaho Training Cooperative IBI Training. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from www.idahocdhd.org/Portals/37/1.How%20to%20Teach%20Children%20with%20Autism%20and%20other%20Severe%20Disabilities.pdf
Autism Society of America (1998). About Autism [Online]. Available from http://www.autism-society.org/about-autism/