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Teacher Tips - Teaching Autistic Students

By Rose Kivi

Autistic children have individual needs. Teaching autistic children is best when approached as a team effort. To develop the most effective individualized educational plan, a teacher should aim to understand the way an autistic child thinks, and learn the child's strengths and weaknesses.

Talk to the Parents

There are many strategies for teaching autistic students. Every autistic child is different and responds to different classroom teaching techniques. An assessment of the autistic child should be made before an education plan is prepared. The assessment process should include testing, reviewing medical recommendations if any, and meetings with the parents.

Parents are a valuable resource to the teacher. The parents have spent more time with the student than anyone else. They know their child's abilities and weaknesses better than anyone else. Many of today's parents have self educated themselves about teaching methods for autistic children. Chances are the parents have already tried many learning techniques. Their successes and failures can be a great insight into the child's mind. Once an education plan is made, the teacher should keep the parents up to date on classroom teaching methods and the child's progress. The parents should be encouraged to build upon and practice classroom techniques at home.

Structured and Stress-Free

The most effective teaching method is understanding the autistic student. The teacher should strive to get into the autistic student's mind and put themselves in the child's shoes. Understanding their likes and dislikes and understanding their fears and idiosyncrasies is the best way for a teacher to learn to communicate with the autistic student.

The classroom environment should be run with the autistic child in mind. The classroom schedule should be structured and organized. Autistic children respond well to structure. Change can be very upsetting to them. The classroom should be run on a fixed schedule routine that is strictly adhered to.

The classroom should be a stress free and calm environment. Activities should be fun. Learning should feel care free and enjoyable. Distractions should be avoided. All of the students need to be kept under control. A classroom with noisy children will not work well for most autistic students. This is an easier task to write about than to actually carry out. It is a challenging task to keep the stress level in the classroom low while maintaining a fun and interactive environment.

Choice, Individual Learning and Multi-Sensory Techniques

Although autistic students enjoy structure, they should be allowed the opportunity to make individual choices about their learning activities. Choices and structured routine can take place at the same time. For instance, classroom routine can dictate that math takes place from eight to nine every morning, but the student can be given the choice to pick between one of three different math activities to work on for that day.

Different students in each classroom have different needs. While much of the learning that takes place during the day should be whole class oriented, some of the learning should be done on an individual basis. Each day should have independent study periods where the autistic student will work on material that is geared only towards them. During the independent study time, most of the students do not need the teacher’s attention. The teacher can use this freedom to devote one on one time with the autistic student. If there are a lot of students who require individual attention, parental volunteers should be used during independent study time.

Multi-sensory teaching techniques should be used in the classroom. Autistic students learn better with a multi-sensory approach and the other students in the classroom will benefit from multi-sensory learning as well. To learn more about multi-sensory learning, read Multi-sensory Activities in the Inclusive Classroom.