Many people struggle with autism spectrum disorder. For those who have it, the sensory inputs of everyday life can be overwhelming and cause unwanted behaviors, not to mention the challenges of education and learning. For others, it can be a great exercise in patience and understanding, to see a child struggle with what many of us consider to be routine in the world around us. For those in a position of educating children with autism, this can be especially challenging due to the need to accommodate the tendencies followed by autism. This is hard to say that those with autism should be labeled or treated as anything besides normal. Like all children, they simply require attention and specific accommodations that maximize their potential to learn and understand the basics from math to science to their ABCs. Some children are visual learners, some are oral learners, some learn through application. And while autism is challenging in itself, the ability to learn is no less present for those who have autism with the proper methods, techniques and teaching tips.
One of the greater challenges to autism spectrum disorder is overstimulation through external sources. Flickering lights, bright or attracting colors, loud sounds or even large groups of people can be distracting, even discomforting, for those with autism. This sort of overstimulation can also lead to challenging behavior and cause children with autism to exhibit anxiety. Providing a calm atmosphere with minimal distractions so children can focus is key in this regard. If need be, accommodations via specified work areas should be arranged when particular tasks need to be completed. Involving their interests in the body of tasks as much as possible can also encourage children to focus and complete the tasks they are given. Feel free to be selective about activities in which they may or may not participate due to lack of interest, and make sure to encourage open-ended tasks and group work.
Differentiating verbal communication can also be challenging for those with autism. Avoid using sarcasm or idioms, as the literal meaning of your words is likely to be understood or considered more quickly than your tone or inflection. Be sure to use concise directions, and don’t overwhelm children with too many steps at a time. In Temple Grandin‘s guide for teaching children and adults with autism, she specified how she was unable to remember more than three steps if asking for directions and would require written instructions to follow. Sometimes, when you are giving instructions, children will return them with blank stares. Try rewording your instructions, and encourage children to repeat them back to you to demonstrate understanding on their part. Be sure to address children as directly as possible, by name if need be. This will assure them that they are part of a group that is being addressed so they can better understand that directions apply to them as well.
It is important to provide structure and routine for children with autism. Deviating from routine can also result in challenging behaviors or anxiety similar to overstimulation. Be sure to set specific times for regularly-performed activities and stick to them as closely as possible. If this should become an issue at any point, the best course of action is to alert children of a break in routine preemptively rather than allow them to discover it on their own. This will give them time to process the deviation. It is also encouraged that they are given small amounts of free time for what some may call obsessive behavior as a reward for adhering to structure and reinforcing positive behaviors throughout the day.
It is also important to remember that not everyone involved will understand the displays of autism. Protecting children from teasing by their peers and making peers aware of autism, in general, is advised. Should a child make displays of anger or frustration, it is important that the target of their frustration may not match the source. Patience is essential, lest you end up frustrated as well and further encourage potentially unwanted behavior.