Are you Ready to Teach a Student with Autism?
Have you heard the ‘horror’ stories about this kid? Why are they placing him in MY class? I don’t know enough about autism or how to cope with the meltdowns I hear so much about. What am I supposed to teach? How can I be expected to meet his needs and the needs of 25 other kids? Will all of my time and attention be consumed by one student?
If any of these concerns have crossed your mind – or jolted you from sleep – you’re not alone. The reality of teaching one or more students with autism is unnerving to say the least – even for the most experienced teacher. These kids, no matter how ‘high functioning’ (I really hate that term) are not your average learner.
Students with autism are complex and let’s face it, school boards and districts are guilty of placing autistic kids in regular classrooms with minimal or non -existent support or training for teachers. Oh ya, and there are often 25 or more other students that require the best from a teacher! Every child deserves the best opportunities to make progress in their development and every good teacher wants to foster that growth.
As a parent who has struggled to keep up with the demands of 3 kids on good day I promise you that the responsibility on the front line in education is daunting. The general public has no idea the tremendous emotional, mental and physical load carried by a classroom teacher.
Unfortunately, if training is available, it is often limited to a couple of days of sitting in a crowded conference room trying desperately to cram every ounce of knowledge, skill and solutions needed in too short of a time. Sometimes, educators leave these trainings inspired but, even more anxious and exhausted than when they went in!
Loss of sleep, anxiety, trepidation, and worry taint the latter weeks of a much-needed vacation time.
Are you able to relate to any of the above? Are you feeling ready to teach one or more students with autism?
If you are feeling ill prepared and less than effective, then there are some things that you can do now to regain the enthusiasm you deserve (and need) for a new year.
Honestly, students with autism ARE complex. But, these kids are also extremely intriguing, and they have so much to offer those who take the time to know and understand them better.
The self doubt and concern that some educators feel, leads them to focus their efforts on managing the behavior of the student with autism because it is the behaviour that can seem to be the most inexplicable and downright unnerving at times.
This well -meaning focus tends to lead to a poor foundation for a relationship between student and staff. The outcome: frustration, increased anxiety for both teacher and student, not to mention, a whole lot of wasted time and learning opportunities.
There is a better way.
One article cannot even begin to explore this topic, but…
Here are 4 things that you can do RIGHT NOW to start the school year off right – before it even begins.
The essence of autism is in the brain. It effects the way a student perceives everything and thinks about everything. It’s not something the kid chooses. It’s not something that the student can turn on or off. It is imperative that teachers have a basic understanding of the autistic perception and information processing style before they attempt to teach a person with autism. Building trust is the most critical ingredient. Without it, there will be very little learning and a whole lot of chaos.
Gather information about the student before school begins. Avoid the people who are only going to tell you negatives about the kid – you need to know the strengths, interests and great qualities too. Collecting information about strategies that have been effective in the past will add to your toolbox. Trial and error is a disastrous strategy in autism education. Given the social communication deficits and the unique neurological profiles of people who have autism, there are critical pieces of information that teachers need to know about the individual autistic student. The individual’s interests, strengths, and challenges are only the bare essential pieces of information required.
Create personalized visual supports for the student in place before the first day of school will literally and positively impact the first few months and the whole school year. Consider making visuals for potentially troubling transitions, daily routines and task instructions. Any information that will be verbalized (or abstract) will have a much better chance to be understood and acted upon by the student when the spoken word is supplemented by pictures or words.
Spending time designing the classroom environment will pay huge dividends in throughout the year. Clear boundaries and designated areas for different activities and materials are essential. Using furniture or tape to delineate where boundaries are is helpful for many students. Labeling spaces and organizing materials in clear, predictable ways will go a long way to easing the anxiety, boosting independence and maximizing learning.
Preparation for a smooth transition to school is critical. Individuals with autism have a very strong memory for emotional episodes – let’s do everything we can to ensure they are positive, trust building memories right from the beginning. I promise that the more effort you put into planning, preparing and learning before school begins, the more you will be able to reap the rewards of teaching a student with autism.
There are many rewards – make no mistake about it! 😊
HELPFUL RESOURCES FOR BOTH YOU AND YOUR STUDENT’S PARENTS
As always, please share this post with anyone you know whose life is touched by autism.
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