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Tips for Working with Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Project Independence would like to thank Mr. Jean duTreil for sending us these Tips for working with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. As a Special Education teacher with over 35 years of teaching experience, Mr. duTreil is one of Project Independence's very valuable Board members and friend, besides being a great advocate for the disabled community.
From IRCA and Indiana's Autism Leadership Network

This April, the Indiana Resource Center for Autism (IRCA) and Indiana’s Autism Leadership Network offer several tips for working with students on the autism spectrum.

1 . Approach students quietly from the side to avoid startling them. Their peripheral vision may be better and it gives them time to process information that tells them you are coming toward them. Once they are startled, it can be difficult for students to calm themselves.

2. Use non-verbal communication (e.g., gestures) when you can. For example, point to the location where you wish the child to be, put your finger to your lips to remind him/her to stop talking, or give a thumbs up when s/he is doing well.

3. Use literal, succinct and direct instructions. “First, put your coat in the closet, and then come to class.” Avoid idiomatic phrases or sarcasm that the student may not understand.

4. Use a calm, even tone of voice. Excited adults yield excited students. Practice your poker face.

5. Visual supports are beneficial even after the child no longer seems to “need” them. Do not discontinue their use without a case conference discussion. In times of stress, these visual supports may be a great support.

6. Remember not to take behaviors personally, even when the child has a perfect knack for targeting your most vulnerable attribute.

7. Children on the spectrum often have poor social skills. It is part of the diagnosis. Insert naturally occurring lessons into the day as they arise. For example, prior to the event, coach a child to say happy birthday to a peer, raise their hand to answer a question, cover their mouth when they sneeze, say no thank-you to non-preferred treats, etc.

8. Give the student ample time to respond BEFORE you repeat instructions.

9. Structure is your best friend. When there is downtime, help students develop a repertoire of things they can do. For example, in line they can recite a poem in their head, count, read a book, make a list, etc. If there are too many choices, narrow it to two or three and have the child choose.

10. If there is a given schedule, follow it. Prepare for any upcoming variations. Prepare in a manner not to enhance anxiety in anticipation of the change.

11. Information processing and sensory issues are more difficult when the child is stressed. Make sure they have strategies to use when overwhelmed.

12. Know the signs of anxiety or stress for your students: pacing, hand-wringing, cussing, flushed face, laughing, etc. Know what causes anxiety or stress for each student. Adjust your language and demands when anxiety is heightened.

13. Spend time with a student before making programming judgments. Listen to and observe the student with input from family members, teachers/therapists or other involved staff before commenting.

14. When trying to extinguish unacceptable behavior, always identify an alternative skill or replacement behavior. And when you are targeting a behavior, be sure to choose your battles carefully. Sometimes focusing too much attention on a behavior may actually intensify that behavior.

15. Forewarn a student when an activity is about to end, even if s/he is using a timer.

16. Educate students using their knowledge, interests and fixations. Build lessons around these special- interest topics so that others see them as experts in something. This will help build self-esteem.

17. Stay in close contact with family members and physicians about what is working and what is not, especially when students are on medications.

18. Build in many small breaks, even in secondary school, for relaxation. Identify a safe area or safe person for the student to access when they are stressed.

19. Help find a social group, a club or some sort of organization that can connect them to peer mentors that are positive.

20. Pre-teach new concepts so students can re-hear them in the general education classroom. This allows them to contribute to the classroom discussion and promotes their success when topics have been rehearsed.

21. When you are feeling overwhelmed by a situation, surround yourself with a team of people with whom you can brainstorm. Using the resources and the wisdom of others helps us to be more creative and problem-solve more effectively.

22. The ultimate goal for any student is to have a successful adult life. No matter what the age of the individual, teaching specific procedures and skills and then fading support is essential for this to happen.

23. And finally, enjoy working with these students. They have many gifts and talents. Building a strong and positive rapport may be your most effective tool.
 

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