Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex multidimensional neurological disorder that manifests itself differently among people. Thus, it is difficult to know how to go about teaching an autistic child. Although, each student is an individual who responds differently to learning methods, strategies do exist to promote the academic success of children with autism. These strategies are based on the specificities of autism, like problems of communication, sociability, behavior, as well as sensory problems of young students.
How do children learn?
Children with autism learn, but not always in the same way as an ordinary child.
Children learn by imitation
Newborns can already imitate certain behaviors, such as pulling the tongue or opening their mouths wide. Between 12 and 18 months, children spontaneously imitate one to two new behaviors per day. As they grow older, this tendencies increase, and teachers can take advantage of this capability to teach them new skills. They are able to recopy the behavior of others, but the quality of the imitations is different.
Children learn because they are curious
The ability to discover new things and new challenges is essential for social and cognitive development. Children with autism sometimes seem less curious and less inclined to make discoveries. They generally prefer what is known and predictable. To make their environment challenging, teachers need to bring in new methods. For example, enable subtitles with TV. This could help both children who can read, and those who do not yet. Students who cannot yet read will associate the words written with the spoken words. In addition, students with autism sometimes have difficulty analyzing spoken words, especially on television. Children who can read can also benefit from being able to read the words while listening to them. If the child particularly likes a TV series, record it with the subtitles and integrate it into your reading class.
Children will learn only if they are interested
A child’s motivation to learn does not always come of itself. Children often learn something to please others. This principle applies much less to children with autism. They are often more motivated if they are themselves interested in the activity. Use their interests to facilitate the learning process. Many autistic children make a fixation on a particular domain. You could use this passion when you teach him something. If the child loves cars, learn geography using small toy cars. Move them on a map and go from one country to another.
Children learn with rewards
Everyone needs rewards, but young children especially need to keep learning new things. They are not yet able to observe or evaluate their own behavior. Children with autism also need rewards. Care must be taken to ensure that the child understands the link between his behavior and the reward for learning.
Children learn when they feel safe
A child with autism lives and understands the world differently, which makes it more difficult for him to cooperate. This can lead to stress and frustration, which is not ideal for developing and acquiring new skills. Before implementing learning, care must be taken to adapt the situation in such a way that the child suffers the least stress and confusion possible.
Children with autism learn in a different method
For the child with autism, the learning method must be adapted to his level, his rhythm and his needs. It must be explicit and concrete. Set unique teaching methods and expect realistically. The results may not be perfect as for everyone. People with autism can therefore progress, regardless of age or intellectual level as long as expectations are realistic.
People with autism present cognitive difficulties. That is why they do not always understand what others are trying to teach them. They will receive and process the information differently. Autistic children have a lack of central consistency, which is the difficulty of giving meaning to the information, interpreting it in a global way or adapting it to the context. People with autism have a very fine perception of the details that can result in fragmented processing of information.
Avoid long verbal instructions
Autistic children may be disconcerted because they often have difficulty analyzing verbal sequences. If the child is able to read, you could write the instructions. For a child in the process of learning, written instructions associated with images might be easier to analyze. Give instructions in small steps.
A deficit in executive functions
This corresponds to the difficulty of planning, evaluating, adapting and solving problems. As a general rule, the evolution of children is not linear, they progress in stages. As long as certain skills are not acquired, it is useless to expect new ones. For example, a child must learn to hold a spoon in hand before knowing how to use it to eat. Children may even experience regression or suddenly progress in one area.
Assume that all children are capable
All autistic students are able to learn. You just have to find a method so that they can properly absorb the information. You must accept that the difference in autistic children is likely to persist over time and that they should not be evaluated in the same way as their “neurotypical” peers. They must be evaluated according to their own growth and learning patterns. Furthermore, show other children as examples. Autistic students often find it hard to be touched by emotions, motivations and other signals that are instinctive for children who are not autistic. They value the feelings of others, but they do not necessarily understand why they feel this or that feeling. It may be useful to explain clearly the social nuances.
Many autistic children are able to learn how to interact properly with others. For this, it may be necessary to explicitly teach them the techniques of social interaction, because observation alone may not be enough. By observing their neurotypical peers, children with autism who are very young, that is, at the kindergarten age, will be able to learn simple things such as color, letters or “yes or “no” to simple questions.
When working with groups, you might associate an autistic student who has difficulty in a given area with a neurotypical student who excels in this area. So if you have an autistic child who has difficulty distinguishing colors, you could associate it with a neurotypical fellow who is very good at this exercise. By observing the child correctly performing the exercise, the autistic child will be able to learn to imitate the behavior expected of him. It is possible to ask neurotypical children in academic achievement and whose social behavior is correct, to serve as a model for their autistic friends. They could teach them to look people in the eye, to greet politely, to exchange ideas, to kindly recommend a change, to speak in a pleasant voice, and so on.
For more information on autism visit autismhub.co.uk