Autism and Instruction Methods That Work Best in School

Autism and instruction strategies in children must be individualized in order to gain the greatest degree of success. Children with autism frequently struggle to learn at the same rate as non-autistic children, and therefore very specific modifications must be made for autism and instruction methods to cater to the autistic children’s unique needs.

The following list includes autism instruction strategies that have been known to help autistic children in the classroom. These are only broad descriptions as any practiced strategies must be child-specific, depending on the individual’s needs, symptoms, and strengths.

1. Autistic children tend to be visual learners. Therefore, a visual structure to the overall learning environment should be carefully designed in order to allow the child to clearly see and comprehend expectations of him or her. This should include clearly defined workstations and other basic elements of the classroom. Visual schedules are also an important part of the classroom’s visual structure, as they allow the autistic child to benefit from a predictable routine where the expectations are laid out specifically in a visual way. This minimizes unexpected occurrences and allows students to anticipate and prepare for transitions in their day.

2. Stimulation in the classroom – especially visual and auditory – should be carefully considered and controlled, whenever possible. Many autistic students can be easily over-stimulated by visual and auditory input and may have a challenging time processing their lessons should they be distracted or overwhelmed by sounds, lights, or images that cannot be properly managed. Workstations should be set away from any excessive auditory and visual stimulation (especially sounds, movements, and any flickering or bright lights) to allow for optimal concentration and learning.

3. Many autistic children struggle with – or have yet to develop – communication skills, especially with regards to expressive communication skills. Instruction for non-verbal students may also be required. An augmentative communication system (methods or devices to aid communication) can be greatly beneficial to autistic students of all communication levels. This could include strategies such as PECS (picture exchange communication system), where picture cards are used to express words for objects, feelings, concepts, places, and other areas where words would typically be helpful.

4. Instruction of social skills has typically been among the more challenging aspects of the curriculum. Overall, it is best to teach social skills very directly. Autistic students will not normally develop social skills through simple interaction within social environments. Instead, they must learn their social interaction skills in the same way that other academic topics and skills are taught.

5. A high priority should be placed on instruction of literacy. The reason for this is that many autistic students often depend on one form of communication for another, even if they are capable of communicating verbally. Frequently, a kind of back-up form of expressive communication is required especially for when the child is feeling upset or overwhelmed. Though PECS is effective, with literacy in the student, communication – even non-verbal communication – can occur at a might higher level, as it opens up a greater vocabulary for expression.

Autism and instruction strategies are exceptionally unique. Before beginning to work with an autistic child, it is important to be aware of the individual needs of that child, and the characteristics of autism exhibited by that child. Instructors and other school staff working with the child should be provided with training about at least the basic features of autism. Every member of the team working with the child should understand the child’s needs as well as teaching strategies such as those listed above, so that they may maximize the child’s potential for successful learning.

Natasha M. McKnight

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