As educators become more aware of how to support children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), mainstreaming high-functioning students in general classrooms is becoming more common.
Autism is a disorder that has many varying levels, so no two ASD students behave the same. While teachers cannot completely rearrange their classes and schedule for one student, they can make these five adjustments to accommodate an autistic child in order to support their success.
1. Encourage Opportunities for Socialization
Working with peers in small groups, joining in team gym activities and playing with other children at recess are important parts of the school day. Children with ASD find it challenging to engage with their peers, so educators need to provide opportunities for safe socialization. Teachers can have students work together in small groups or ask other students to buddy up during recess and lunch. ASD children also have trouble expressing their feelings. Dedicate some time each week to having students act out situations, such as taking turns and dealing with frustrations, so that all the children learn appropriate ways to behave at school.
2. Limit Sensory Stimulation
Children with autism are hypersensitive to sensory stimuli, so they are easily distracted by brightly colored displays, open doors and windows, loud noises and other hyperactive children. While it is difficult to limit this exposure, teachers can provide the student with a quiet space to retreat to when they are feeling overwhelmed or are too worked up to participate in group activities.
3. Set Clear Boundaries
Autistic children thrive best on a predictable schedule and with clear boundaries. A teacher can support this need by establishing class rules and a routine. To reduce impatience, outline the daily activities each morning and inform the child at the beginning of the exercise when it will be their turn to participate. It is also critical that teachers provide instructions in a clear, concise manner since autistic children often have difficulty following complex directions. Writing down the steps can help a child who struggles with remembering what they should do next.
4. Collaborate with Parents
Meeting with the child’s parents before the school year starts goes a long way in reducing everyone’s anxiety. Educators have an opportunity to ask questions about how they can meet the child’s needs and find out if the parents have any resources or techniques to share that work well at home. This conversation can also alleviate some of the concerns a parent is having about mainstreaming their child. The student should attend the meeting as well. Let them explore the classroom so that they already feel comfortable when they walk in on the first day. Throughout the school year, reach out to the parents to ask for help if any problems arise.
5. Teach to Different Learning Styles
Autistic children are often visual and hands-on learners. Integrating pictures and matching games alongside sound and number concepts reinforces the lessons in a way that they can grasp. Incorporate objects that an ASD child has a fixation on to draw them into the exercise. When working on a math problem, have the child use blocks to count, create number groups or build equations. Art and technology can also provide the stimulating interactions that an autistic child’s brain needs for learning.
It is vital that educators take the time to understand the developmental effects of autism and how they can adapt their classroom environments to encourage each child to thrive in their own individual way. Schools provide resources, including access to counselors and special education teachers, that help mainstream teachers design an inclusive classroom.