Chances are an autistic child who is in mainstream education will not require special education, which means they are unlikely to have obvious learning disabilities. But that said they will still have special needs.
The first thing as a teacher you should do is to speak to other members of staff and the SENCO in your school. Make sure that everyone understands what autism is and that they are aware of how this will affect the child’s behaviour.
Sometimes it is helpful to explain to the other children within the class about autism. This will help to prepare them for the autistic child starting school. It will be helpful to explain that the new class member may act differently or strangely – for example they may shout out unexpectedly or laugh at inappropriate things.
You ought to explain that although the autistic child may act inappropriately that this is not intentional and they too have feelings like everybody else. This is an important thing to stress as it will be very easy for the autistic child to become, the focus of taunts, bullying and teasing if the other children in the class and school do not understand the autistic child’s behavior and mannerisms.
Probably one task you should undertake before the autistic child begins in your class is to take a note of all the classroom accommodations.
Autism classroom accommodations to consider:
Makea note of the autistic child’s special need’s for example going to the bathroom, with autism going to the bathroom can be an issue, find out how the child copes with this and if necessary add signs at the bathroom, (small picture cards with text) to avoid embarrassment and allow the autistic child to identify the bathroom.
Ask the parents for a meeting and try to identify the autistic child’s strengths and weaknesses. You can build on the strengths and encourage these.
Sometimes it may be necessary to appoint a helper (LSA) or classroom assistant, to help the autistic child within the classroom.
The autistic child’s helper’s role should be to encourage the child to be more independent, work on task’s and to mix with other children.
It will probably especially at first to keep an eye on the child at break times and during recess, when they might spend a lot of time on their own.
Autistic children tend to like prefer their own company, however older children and teens may feel left out or lonely. Sometimes it can be helpful to structure breaktimes to avoid any problems.
Try and avoid metaphorical speech, for example “wait a minute”, autistic children tend to very literal and will not understand. Avoid sarcastic language, or exaggeration, and nick names, both when you are speaking to the child and to the class as a whole. Always be aware of what you are saying and how it might be misunderstood by the child.
You may need to repeat yourself during lessons and keep checking the autistic child is still listening, their attention span can be short especially when something is not of interest to them.
When you are talking to a group, make sure you have the child’s attention. Especially young children they may not understand that they are included in the group, so you may need to include them by talking to them directly ie by saying their name or talk first, then to the whole class.
As with listening to a foreign language or something you really have no interest in, we all tend to shut off to it. An child with autism is no different, as soon as a couple of sentences go over their head they will shut down their auditory system and stop listening reverting back into their own world.
Try using visual aids when teaching a subject that requires abstract thinking. You could maybe use photographs or pictures to help keep the autistic child’s attention.
Even at secondary school, it is still possible to use visual aids for example illustrations or diagrams could be added to worksheets.
Visual timetables are used with a great success, the autistic child can quickly recognise what is happening as has a visual cue for the various different times of the day, like break times, recess, pe lessons, hometime etc.
You may want to include time for the bathroom as this is a confusing time for most children with autism.
You may also want to think about the use of autism social stories as a tool for helping the autistic child keep on task and understand what is expected of them throughout the day and what they should expect from other’s.
Autism social stories are used with great effect in classrooms and can be like a favorite friend to an autistic child, and teacher a like! Used in conjunction with a visual timetable and set behavior plan, autism social stories will become invaluable.