Increasingly, teachers seem to be more sensitive to the importance of proper care of children with Special Educational Needs. The problem of SEN it is more visible today, increased awareness of the problem means we can address it. Being aware is the first step, which is a good thing, but do we know how to take action? Do we know how to deal with teaching a child with autism in our classroom?
First of all, we are not doctors, we are teachers, and as such, we should not agonize pretending to dominate the theory about each disorder showed for a student. Either with autism. However, we should become experts in our own right setting by embracing as many teaching strategies as we can to enhance learning. When children feel safe and happy they learn better.
I am not suggesting we do not further our knowledge on the subject. I invite you to look for it and professionalize yourselves as much as you can. A good base of previous knowledge about autism could help us when we get down to work and being prepared for certain behaviors. But I am saying we should not lose focus on the teaching.
Therefore, I will just clarify briefly some of the characteristics of autism in order to focus on the 5 educational strategies.
What is Autism? Autism is a complex neurological disorder that impairs the ability of individuals to communicate and interact with others. This predisposes the person to routines and repetitive behaviors, such as strange obsessions with some objects or following very specific routines without any possibility of variability. Symptoms can range from mild to very severe.
It is often teachers who notice unusual behaviors in their students. Hence the importance of being aware that teachers are also observers. Once it is diagnosed, early intervention is crucial. As soon as autism is diagnosed, the intervention should start with focus on developing communication skills, socialization and cognitive programme.
The following five strategies are some of the best known. Both, teachers and support staff, maximize the chances of improving behaviour, language and communication skills of children with autism when they apply these strategies:
1.VISUAL CALENDARS. Visual aids play an important role as these children find it easier to understand and communicate through images. Working with visual aids will help them
achieve structure, reduce stress and improve understanding. A visual calendar provides pictures of the day’s activities. This helps students to know exactly what to do an when, or predict what is happening.
2. COMIC STRIP CONVERSATIONS. Creating conversations through comics allows the child to better understand what is happening, join in a conversation or understand feeling and intentions of others.
3. THE PICTURE COMMUNICATION EXCHANGE SYSTEM (PECS) Teachers use pictures as symbols to teach children the names of different objects. Gradually the child is taught to exchange a picture for the object he or she wants, to construct simple sentences using te pictures, and indicate choices between various objects.
4. SOCIAL STORIES. Stories with pictures and simple words (for children who can read) help them to deal with specific situations, such as riding a bus, hiking or hearing the fire alarm during a drill.
5. ROLE-PLAYING. Thought theater and role playing games we have an excellent opportunity to teach social norms, such as greetings or classroom skills.
TIP 1! Use computer software packages to write out stories, descriptions and instructions in both words and symbols simultaneously. In addition, there are many APPS for autism. You will find a summary in a book called An essential guide to over 200 effective Apps! (available in Amazon).
TIP 2! Read a book to understand their behavior and way of thinking, such as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.