11 Jun 2022
Students with autism can present unique challenges for their teachers who need to effectively meet their needs. It is vital that teachers are well-equipped to deal with these challenges and are aware of the best possible ways to support a child with autism in the classroom.
Autism is the term used when a child experiences communication and developmental difficulties that make it hard to understand the world around them. Autism is one of several disorders known as Autism Spectrum Disorders or ASD. Others include Asperger's Syndrome and Pervasive Development Disorder. It is estimated that ASD affects up to 1 in 70 children.
ASD characteristics can range from narrow interests, developmental delay, lack of social and communication skills, and inability to recognise social cues. A child with ASD may often perform repetitive behaviours or movements, have difficulty dealing with large groups or crowds of people and can be sensitive to bright light or loud noises.
People with Autism can struggle with social interactions, have difficulty with speech and comprehension of words and have trouble dealing with changes in their environment. The scale of difficulty that children with ASD can experience may vary from minor to severe. With the right support, many children with ASD can live relatively normal lives.
ASD can sometimes be identified in the first two years of a child’s life. However, early signs can manifest when they are a toddler. Parents know their children best, and by observing their child’s social skills, development, and communication, they can be the most vital key in identifying early signs of autism.
Signs that your child could be affected may include lack of eye contact, difficulty communicating, repetitive behaviours, inability to cope with changes to their surroundings, sensitivities to touch and to light and noise, and lack of understanding in social and interpersonal interactions. It is also common for a child on the spectrum to take turns of speech quite literally rather than deduce the different context.
Sometimes medications may be prescribed to assist and minimise or treat associated symptoms such as hyperactivity, seizures, anxiety or possibly depression. Other alternative therapies are also available. Diet and nutrition and vitamin treatments may also help.
Above all else, education is key. Parents of children with ASD, gathering information and learning as much as possible about your child’s condition can give you a deeper understanding of your child’s individual needs and how you can best help them. Consultation with your GP and assessment of age-appropriate milestones can assist with early diagnosis of autism-related behaviours. Visit Autism Awareness Australia for more information.
So how can you as a teacher support a child with autism in the classroom effectively?
Here are some tips that you can follow:
It is hugely beneficial for parents to normalise ASD as early as possible and create awareness for their child, other family and household members, and their child’s peers to provide understanding and patience to help the child navigate situations and settings they may find challenging.
The primary carer at home, be it mum or dad, know all the likes, dislikes, and particular behavioural triggers. Sure, they’re not professionals, but they’re the true heart of an autistic child, the heart an autistic child may or may not be able to express themselves. They have a history of good and bad reactions to every experience and stimulation. They have experienced good and bad results trying to deal with sometimes confounding reactions.
They have some immediate pointers, even if they don’t always work. Anything that works 3 times out of 10 is better than blind guesswork with no results. So do all your groundwork with the people who know the child best and equip yourself with some useful pointers on dealing with tough situations.
Again, you can get these from the parents. Any autism assessment or reports on your student will be quite useful and help you know more about them so take the time to study it thoroughly.
One thing you can guarantee with an autistic student is that they’re going to be unpredictable. The more data you have on exactly how they’ve been unpredictable in the past, the more predictable they’ll become.
If you don’t already have an assistant in the classroom, a Teacher's Aide can make all the difference. A Teacher's Aide is a qualified professional with many of the educational and interactive learning skills you have.
Not only can they help with the day-to-day masterminding of everything from activities and coursework planning to exam marking and essay critiquing, but they can also assist you in caring for the autistic student in the classroom. With a Teacher's Aide in place, all your students can get ahead on schedule, and your autistic student has the helping hand they need to keep up.
Interested in a teaching career? Find out how to become a Teacher's Aide and what the daily duties and qualifications for this role are.
You will likely meet with challenges in the classroom and need to be best prepared to meet them. Autistic children go into sensory overload, and there’s nothing you can do to stop that. What you can do is minimise the emotion for them and everyone else.
Have a plan and a place where your autistic student can go with your Teacher's Aide whenever they need to and as soon as they need to. The Teacher's Aide can simply take the student off to wherever it might be – the library or schoolyard – and reassure them away from prying eyes until it’s time to go back.
The worst thing an autistic child can be subjected to is a classroom of kids being what kids can unfortunately be: cruel. So, explain autism to your kids and your class. Tell them exactly what it is and make them aware of this condition.
If you like the sound of this and want to be part of helping autistic children be the best students they can be, check out our range of Childcare and Education courses. Become a Teacher's Aide with our CHC30221 Certificate III in School Based Education Support. Fill out our Enquiry Form or call us on 1300 616 197 and speak to one of our Careers Advisors about your course options.
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