April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day, a day that recognizes the rights of those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). What is ASD? It is a developmental disorder that can cause people to behave, communicate, interact, and learn in different ways than most others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov), in 2016 there were 1 in 54 eight-year-old children identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) across the United States.* What does this mean for classrooms across the country? Teachers need to be prepared to teach students with ASD, using a variety of strategies and tools including educational technology. Read some tips for supporting your students with ASD in the classroom.Stick to structure and routine
Students with ASD tend to respond to clear structures and predictable routines. Design schedules that show what students can expect during each part of the day, so that they see what comes next. This helps to ease anxiety and they can better focus on each lesson or activity. If the classroom has an interactive flat panel display, use it to show each day’s schedule. As each activity is completed, have student volunteers check off the activity.Use visual aids
Drawings, pictures, modeling, and other visual ways of communication may help students more than explaining or reading instructions. Visual aids can be used dynamically in interactive lessons such as sorting shapes by attribute, categorizing animals by trait, or sequencing numbers. Teachers can create interactive lessons in a few minutes using simple-to-use software like MimioStudio™ which provides templates for sorting and categorizing activities. Combined with an interactive flat panel display, students can now engage with the lesson by touching the screen and moving items according to activity objectives.Speak simply and directly
Students may not understand figurative language and tend to take many things literally. Use direct language and keep instructions and explanations simple. Open-ended questions may be frustrating for some, so provide options. For example, instead of “What would you like to read today?” ask “Which book would you like to read?” and provide 2-3 books to select from on topics they are interested in.Allow for extra time
Give students time to process information at their own pace. This means being patient with the time needed for students to work through instructions, an activity, and transitions between activities. If needed, allow students to “take a break” by giving them a quiet space to retreat to when they are feeling anxious, frustrated, overwhelmed, etc.Foster social skills
Encourage students to interact with one another, even if they may not seem interested in doing so. Some interactive flat panel displays, like the ProColor panel, are multitouch, allowing for more than one student to complete an activity. Provide opportunities for two or more students to work together, giving positive feedback on appropriate behaviors. Model appropriate social skills and what to do when their emotions get the best of them such as when another student upsets them or how to wait their turn in a group activity.
As with most new strategies, try one or two at a time consistently before introducing something new. Remember that each of your students is a child first so get to know each one and what interests them. Recognize and celebrate their skills and improvements. The classroom should feel like a safe place that they can feel comfortable in each day and you have the privilege of making that happen.
April is World Autism Awareness Month so take the time to participate in a variety of activities such as wearing blue on April 2, share resources and stories to increase global acceptance, incorporate lessons on diversity to help foster understanding of all people, and research individuals in history who many consider having been on the autism spectrum such as Hans Christian Anderson, Benjamin Banneker, Emily Dickinson, Albert Einstein, and Michelangelo.
*Click here for more information from the CDC on Autism Spectrum Disorder
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