Teaching autistic children can be a challenging task, but it can also be extremely rewarding. Teachers may have to tackle meltdowns, distractions, communication problems and more to help their students reach their full potential.
To provide the best learning experience possible, there are a few key teaching strategies that we recommend to manage behaviors, improve communication, and provide a safe and engaging environment.
- Be adaptable
There are huge differences in the needs and behaviors of autistic children. Some may have special educational needs (SEN) and/or additional support needs (ASN). The sensory input levels of each child can also vary, with both hyposensitive (understimulated) and hypersensitive (overstimulated) types of the condition affecting the different senses. To effectively teach each autistic child, it is imperative that you are able to recognize and adapt your teaching strategy to suit each individual.
- Take a whole-school approach
To provide the best learning experience, your teaching strategies shouldn’t stop in the classroom. We recommend a whole-school approach, where all staff members are made aware of the child’s needs. They should also be educated in strategies and interventions that work for the child, so challenging behaviors can be managed effectively.
- Consider the sensory needs of the child
A child who hits things or people repeatedly, seeks or makes loud noises, or rocks vigorously without cause may be hyposensitive. On the other hand, hypersensitivity can result in anxiety and meltdowns when one or more of the child’s senses is too acute.
To provide the best education, it is important that you pay attention and cater to the unique sensory needs of the child. This can lead to better focus and behavior, in addition to a more organized thought process. The addition of sensory equipment such as soundboards can provide a welcome distraction, and vibrating sensory cushions can be an excellent way to fulfill sensory needs while calming and soothing.
Investment in a sensory room can also provide a place for students who are overwhelmed to de-escalate. Experia’s multisensory interactive learning environments (M.I.L.E.) are specifically designed to enhance learning and can be used for differing abilities and ages. These fully interactive rooms can be used to teach subjects like language arts, math, geography, and history in a way that’s completely suited to the needs and requirements of the individual.
“The M.I.L.E. is excellent because you can create environments and make them information based” - Jackie Tiff, Castle Wood School
- Speak to parents
We’re not just talking about the occasional parent/teacher conference. Regular communication with family members and caregivers can be extremely helpful for understanding your student. Learn what upsets them or triggers unwanted behaviors, and methods that can successfully calm and de-escalate. Comparing notes can make the transitional period from home to school easier, and it can help both parties offer the best possible care.
- Use fixations to your advantage
A strong interest in a particular subject or item is a common occurrence in autistic children. Whether it’s animals, cars, or spinning objects, this interest can be a way for them to focus when their environment is overwhelming. Some interests can even bring their own sensory rewards.
If your student often fixates on cars, for example, try including pictures and analogies about cars in your lesson plans. This can help keep them focused and aid in learning progression. However, it is important to note the differences between an interest and an obsession. If the behavior appears to have a negative effect on the child’s quality of life, they may need additional help. Find more information on fixations and obsessions at Ambitious About Autism.