In the Classroom

April is Autism Awareness Month. Students with autism can thrive in general-education classrooms. Here are ways to ensure they do:

Use tons of visuals. Templates, models of expected work, schedules, outlines and visual mapping help students get organized and learn.

Don’t insist on eye contact from students who can’t process what you’re saying when they have to look at you. Some kids need to look away in order to focus on the auditory modality.

Understand that students may have sensory defensiveness and aren’t able to tolerate certain forms of touch. A tap on the shoulder or a pat on the hand can make them physically uncomfortable. Loud noises can make some want to run for cover. Allow for sensory breaks.

Give kids plenty of time to process requests and to respond. Even though they’re smart, most kids on the spectrum have measurably slow processing speed. Give plenty of warnings about upcoming transitions and changes in the routine to alleviate anxiety.

Use specific, concrete language. Kids on the spectrum have trouble with abstract language. Instead of saying, “Get ready for lunch,” say, “Put your papers in the desk and wash your hands.” Realize that figurative language like idioms and metaphor, humor and sarcasm, may be misunderstood.

Keep homework to a minimum. Many kids on the spectrum are exhausted from the school day, and some have therapy appointments (like social skills and occupational therapy) after school.

Make a point to discover students’ particular interests and skills. Use them to capture attention, motivate and facilitate work with peers.

Source: Anne K. Ross

For NEA’s “Teaching Students With Autism” guide for educators, see nea.org (search for “autism”).