Teaching Students on the Autism Spectrum

Educators will face a number of challenges throughout the course of their careers, especially as instruction relates to teaching students from all ends of the spectrum. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the U.S.

It is crucial for teachers to develop strategies to ensure the education they provide helps students with autism advance within society. Today, 35 percent of young adults with autism – those ages 19 through 23 – are not able to find a job or receive a postgraduate education after leaving high school.  As a result educators’ responsibilities are becoming even more apparent, according to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

The University of Cincinnati offers its Online Master of Education in Special Education, with a specific concentration in Transition to Work. This curriculum provides specially developed coursework for teachers hoping to work with students who have mild to moderate developmental disabilities. With the opportunity to take classes like Foundations, Trends and Issues in Special Education Leadership as well as Transition Strategies for Individuals with Disabilities, master’s students can gain valuable insight into how to ensure their own pupils lead a successful life after their own education.

By implementing practical and easy-to-use ideas, identifying sensory processing challenges, introducing organization and more, teachers can improve student learning, according to the Bureau of Education and Research.

Focus on simplicity

Instruction that offers too many choices, utilizes sarcasm or includes a long set of directions can overwhelm children with autism. No matter the previous training they’ve had in these situations, teachers need to remember to keep things simple.

To ensure learners are able to fully understand the assignment, teachers should keep their guidance short to allow time for oral language processing on the part of the student, according to Scholastic. Teachers may want to reduce the number of options for students to choose between from four to two and avoid irony so pupils do not feel stressed or take a comment the wrong way.

Rely on structure

Any duration of time without a sense of organization can be troubling for children and adults with special needs. Educators need to implement structured teaching strategies that focus on the specific characteristics related to autism. This way, teachers can better explain what is expected of students, devise a comfortable environment that is suitable to education and create activities that are appropriate for these pupils, according to The National Association of Special Education Teachers.

By reducing the elements that cause anxiety and stress for students with autism via structured teaching, educators can improve overall comprehension as well as a pupil’s ability to function in an independent manner – both inside and outside the classroom. During the implementation of physical organization, particular teaching tactics and visual schedules, teachers have to keep each learner’s individual needs and abilities in mind. With this information, teachers can develop workplaces that aid students with autism, as well as handy daily breakdowns that help with self-control and time organization.

In addition, structured teaching enables students to operate within a working system that addresses personal independence while keeping the features of the autistic condition in mind. By using visual representations of the tasks ahead, teachers can assist learners in understanding when their objective is complete and what to move onto next.


Give students a real experience

Instead of giving learners the “special needs” treatment all of the time, educators should attempt to establish some sense of normalcy in the classroom. From celebrating people’s birthdays to enabling students to tell jokes, teachers that are able to balance specified educational tactics with ordinary behaviors and conduct could witness a real impact on their classroom, according to TeachThought. Even the smallest victories – like the completion of a somewhat difficult classroom activity, for example – can feel like milestones to students and their families alike, so teachers should try to foster as many of these moments as possible.


Utilize visual aids

Students with autism spectrum disorders can find it difficult not only to communicate but to pay attention in the classroom if too much is going on. One tip for educators helping learners with special needs is to introduce visual aids. Since teachers may encounter students with various capabilities and challenges in their classroom, these tools – especially visual schedules – will enable children and adults with autism to focus on the message at hand, according to research from Dublin Business School.

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Education offered this helpful example: A typical problem faced by students with autism is the inability or the extended period of time needed to process oral commands. Since this direction is transient – meaning once it is said, it is no longer available – learners may forget the instruction or become frustrated while attempting to remember. The use of visual aids, whether in the form of informative illustrations or text, allows students to focus on a concrete example of the direction. Tangible cues help learners grasp and concentrate on educators’ direction.

Address environmental and practical sensory issues

Students on the autism spectrum can be especially reactionary to certain auditory signals, environmental inputs or sensory simulations. It is crucial for teachers to not only understand these issues but to limit their influence as much as possible. There are four patterns of sensory processing teachers should be aware of, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children:

  1. Low registration: Students with this pattern are passive to behavioral responses due to their high neurological threshold and require a fair amount of stimulation to remain engaged.
  2. Sensory sensitivity: These learners may have a low neurological threshold, resulting in an inability to focus and the potential to become frustrated or irritable should environmental changes occur.
  3. Sensation seeking: With a high neurological threshold, these pupils tend to have strong sensory reactions as they seek to stimulate a particular sense. Tactile students, for example, may feel the need to touch as many objects as possible to feel comfortable in an environment.
  4. Sensation avoiding: Students who follow this pattern often become overstimulated very quickly, which can cause them to become distracted by a wide array of environmental factors, such as activities happening outside the classroom. Sometimes, the easiest way for these learners to cope is to remove themselves from the situation altogether.


Consult with parents

Sometimes, no matter how hard teachers try, they feel like they are not influencing any positive change in a student’s well-being or knowledge. To enhance their instructional abilities and improve their relationships with students, teachers should always search for more details into their learners’ disabilities.

No matter how well educators think they know their pupils on the autism spectrum, it’s likely that parents have more in-depth and critical information regarding their children’s condition and needs. Honest conversations between teachers and parents can help both parties better understand what educational tactics and techniques are best for children and adults with autism. Teachers can utilize parent-teacher conferences and IEP meetings, intra-school chat boards, surveys and more to grasp what elements of their instruction may need work.

Teaching students on the autism spectrum can be a demanding and exhausting process. To be effective, educators have to be on their toes every minute of every day, constantly thinking ahead to avoid problematic situations from occurring. Although the tactics utilized to help pupils with special needs understand the lesson at hand can be challenging, the sense of accomplishment learners and teachers alike receive from a simple success can be well worth the hardship.

Earning a master’s in education from the University of Cincinnati offers teachers the training and education they need to develop effective strategies to better interact with and instruct their students on the autism spectrum. The degree can be completed via online coursework, allowing working professionals to continue operating within their classrooms while completing a higher education. The Master of Education in Special Education (SPED) provides four concentrations for educators to choose from, including focuses on autism spectrum disorders and behavioral disorders. With this degree, teachers can improve both learning outcomes and quality of life for students.
















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