Every child is different, and some have unique learning needs that make traditional learning methods less than ideal. Teaching kids with autism requires extra guidance and support to help them successfully learn academically and socially. Whether you are a teacher or a parent, you may have questions about how to teach kids with autism to better help them grow and develop. Fortunately, there are many different ways to help your student with autism and provide them with a positive learning experience, from fostering better communication to eliminating extra stress and many things in between.
Teaching Tips for Parents
Having a child with autism can be challenging. However, teaching does not have to be difficult. Find out ways to provide the best learning environment for your student at home with these helpful tips.
Use Direct Language
Teaching kids with autism means speaking with them in a way that they will best understand. Many people living with autism struggle with any kind of figurative language. Instead, they interpret everything concretely, word for word.
Think about the idioms you use every day — for example, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” or “I could eat a horse.” You can see how phrases like these would be bewildering when interpreted literally. That’s why it’s crucial to speak plainly with your child. Also, try your best not to rely heavily on nonverbal cues like facial expressions or gestures, which are confusing and hard to read.
Predictability Is Critical
Students with autism often face anxiety about unpredictability. Unexpected changes can make things frustrating for you and your child. Help keep them at ease by creating a consistent routine and sticking to it. That way, your student will always know what is coming next, like when they need to do homework or get ready for dinner. Having a plan will take away distractions and worry to make room for your child to focus on learning.
Give Simple Instructions
If an assignment or project comes with a long list of steps, simplify it as much as possible. Kids on the autism spectrum may have trouble processing complex directions. You can help them understand by breaking the instructions down into one or two steps at a time to complete. Be sure to use brief sentences and plain, straightforward language to reduce confusion.
Challenges Are Opportunities
As your child continues on their learning path, things may often feel overwhelming. Your attitude as a parent can make a dramatic difference for your student with autism. Reframe challenges as opportunities, instead of roadblocks. This mindset will help them face obstacles with a positive, can-do outlook and prepare them to overcome anything that may come their way.
Teaching Tips for Educators
Teachers in every grade level know that every child with autism requires individual attention to help them succeed. Discovering what works best for each student may require some trial and error. Discover several approaches you can take when teaching kids with autism to enhance the teaching and learning process in your classroom.
Lead Inclusive Activities
With some extra preparation, children on the autism spectrum can enjoy group activities just as much as their more neurotypical peers. Learn your students’ play preferences and what they are comfortable doing. Some students with autism are nonverbal, so preparing alternative ways to communicate with them is crucial. Learn more in our video, “Behavior Strategies for the Group Environment: Leading Inclusive Activities for Children With Autism.”
Recognize and Avoid Sensory Overload
Teachers are well aware that students can become distracted, and students with autism are no exception to this rule. However, what may be a short-lived interruption for their peers could become overwhelmingly bothersome to an autistic child.
For students with autism, things most people might never notice — such as smells, lighting, echoes and even bright colors — can be intensely triggering. When in the classroom, try to keep everything as calm and relaxing as possible. You can also present your autistic students with sensory tools to help them process information and reduce stress.
Offer Natural Rewards
Since kids with autism do not process verbal praise and attention the same way others do, you must take a different approach to rewarding their efforts and progress. Offer your students natural rewards that directly connect to their desired behaviors, such as interacting with peers. For example, if your student is fascinated by trains, you can distribute multiple train cars among their peers and fellow educators. Reinforce the idea that they will get to play with a portion of the train as a reward for positive interactions with others.
Maintain a Structured Learning Environment
Structure can make a significant difference when teaching children with autism. Set up a well-structured classroom that is easy for them to navigate. Create a schedule that can become a comfortable, familiar routine and do your best not to deviate from it. As an educator, you will find classroom structure helpful for reducing stress and boosting focus by showing students with autism what to do next, when and for how long before moving on to the next task.
Use Visual Aids
Visual aids are invaluable for students with autism because they can model so many different things. They can serve as reminders of classroom rules, where items belong within the classroom and help them find available resources. Creating infographics-style schedules can serve as a tool students can follow by easily identifying what each picture represents throughout their daily classroom routine. Visual aids can dramatically simplify communication for you and your students.
Encourage Social Interactions With Others
Learning how to socially interact with peers is one of the most critical skills a student can learn. Sometimes, it may take a little extra guidance and encouragement from teachers to help students with autism feel comfortable enough to participate in social interaction. A classroom setting that provides natural opportunities for social interaction between educators and peers is an ideal way to encourage social interaction.
All kids learn at a different pace, and some children need a little more grace than others. When teaching kids with autism, give them plenty of time to process your instructions. Trying to hurry them along will only lead to frustration and disappointment from everyone involved, which you want to avoid as much as possible. Set them up for success by providing them with the patience they need.
Passionate About Potential
At Early Autism Services, we help families and caregivers of children with autism by teaching foundational skills. Our accredited, licensed professionals offer personalized applied behavior analysis therapy, an evidence-based autism treatment recognized by the U.S. Surgeon General and the American Psychological Association. Our compassionate, professional team works with children and families throughout the United States, Australia and India. Contact us to request your complimentary consultation.