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Teaching Students with Autism

People with autism have a special set of needs required when they are participating in your classes. Autism is a developmental disorder that usually surfaces in the first couple years of a child’s life. With impaired social interaction and communications being the key characteristics, teaching students with autism can be a challenge. This neurodevelopmental disorder is quite varied, with some living with severe impairments, while others are highly functional with a chance of having some incredible abilities.

For someone to be diagnosed with autism, they need to have the following three symptoms: impairments in social interaction, impairments in communication, and restricted interests and repetitive behaviour. If you are a teacher or children’s instructor of any kind, you know right away how difficult those symptoms can be to deal with. Here are 8 tips on how to approach teaching students with autism:

1)Specificity and Brevity – Whether you’re giving a talk, describing an activity, or giving feedback, be specific. Students with autism will have an incredibly difficult time understanding you, if you speak in generalities. Reduce the amount of linguistic flourish in your verbal communication. The shorter and more direct your language is, the easier it will be for students with autism to understand you.


2)Try Again – Sometimes, you’ll notice your student doesn’t follow what you’re telling them. Students with autism may have trouble with comprehension, so you might have to reword what you’re saying. With enough practice, you’ll see what works and what doesn’t; leading you to improve your communication and relationship with them.


3)Be Direct – Language idioms and sarcasm are lost upon most students with autism. The BC Ministry of Education outlines this in their Teaching Students with Autism resource guide. Reduce your usage of these to get your students understanding you better.


4)StructureStudents with autism work very well with structure. Keep this in mind when building your lessons. They can have a lot of trouble when they have too many choices; guiding them with intention will be the most effective.


5)Show Results – If you’re trying to get students with autism to do a particular task and they do not understand your directions, show them a very literal depiction of what you want them to do. It may require a bit of acting out your directions.


6)Address Them Specifically – Students with autism may not realize you are giving them instructions when you’re addressing the entire class. Bring their attention to you by telling them this is something that involves them and, if that doesn’t work, you’ll have to give them specific instructions on an individual level.


7)Don’t Take It Personally – Rude or aggressive behavior can be frequent and determining the source of it will be better than getting upset by it.  You can learn more about this on the British Council’s article on helping children with autism.


8)Reduce Distractions – If your students with autism are having difficulty paying attention, look out for distractions. Overstimulation can happen frequently so reduce how cluttered and busy things are visually.

Teaching students with autism can be very difficult but it can also be very rewarding. What students have you had with special needs? How did you deal with their needs?

Make sure you check out your local state or provincial education department to see if they have resources. Let us know on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter and Google+, to stay up to date with all of your PerfectMind news.


Whitney Donaldson
Whitney Donaldson

Whitney is the Marketing and Events Coordinator for PerfectMind. She brings four years of marketing and communications experience with a focus in the digital media and technology industries. She has a Marketing Management Certificate from BCIT and an English Literature degree from the University of Victoria. She is an avid runner and swimmer, and enjoys spending her free time outdoors. She is motivated by a good cup of coffee, and conversations that convert a great idea into a reality.

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