If you have students or kids on the spectrum, you know they develop and learn uniquely. While their growth and education might look different from their neurotypical peers, autistic teaching strategies can help them feel welcome and supported in the classroom.
In addition to offering meaningful support to students on the spectrum, you will be setting a valuable example for all the kids in your class–one of inclusion, acceptance, and understanding. And those are lessons they can put to use every day of their lives! Whether you’re a teacher, parent, or both, we hope these tips help you do what you do best: support the children in your life.
Know How Autism Impacts Learning
It’s important to understand how children on the spectrum experience their time in the classroom. When you know their unique challenges and struggles, you can offer meaningful support and set an example for other children to do the same.
Children with autism might experience the following:
- Delayed language development
- Difficulty paying attention to the people around them
- A tendency to focus more on details and miss the “big picture,” both in general and in lessons or stories
- Struggles with organization, focus, attention, time management, and or emotional regulation
- Developing skills at a different rate or in a different order than their peers
- Struggling with social skills and communication
- Being generally overstimulated by the environment
Create an Optimal Learning Environment
- Keep to a structure and regular routine as much as possible
- Pair kids on the spectrum with good role models
- Keep the environment as calm and positive as possible
- Try to keep materials and items contained (cupboards, drawers, etc.) unless in-use so the atmosphere is relatively clutter-free
- Try to keep shapes, colors, and designs minimal and subtle where possible
- Create a safe, comfortable, quiet zone away from all the action
- Try to arrange the classroom facing away from outside distractions/windows if possible
Take it From the Experts
- Use praise to reinforce positive behavior–don’t forget to be specific!
- Try to model appropriate behavior at all times
- Make time for all students to work on their social skills
- Let autistic students know if there will be changes to routines
- Pay special attention to whether children with autism are becoming isolated–if so, try to create situations for inclusion
- Encourage work in small groups and pairs
- Pair your students on the spectrum with any student who is a positive role model–this benefits both students!
- Consider classroom or environmental changes that make children on the spectrum feel more welcome, supported, and comfortable. Think: minimizing distractions, clutter, unpredictability, and overwhelm
- Familiarize yourself with the typical characteristics of autism
- Foster a welcoming, positive, supportive environment for all students, with particular emphasis on inclusion and understanding