A large group of junior high and high school teachers without experience working with students with autism asked for a step-by-step plan for providing the best possible services to the youngsters coming into their classes this year.
The most important message for teachers and others interested in the well-being of individuals with autism is that there is simply not a pre-packaged strategy that addresses the ups and downs and autism and the specific needs of each student. Each person is unique. This statement is true, of course, for every student, whether or not they are diagnosed with autism. But, because of the mixture of areas affected, the individual differences will be more marked with their students diagnosed with autism.
These students deal with challenges in communication, personal interaction, sensory issues, restrictive behaviors, and social skills. And their functioning levels will be uneven, in that they may have extraordinary talents in one area and unexpected deficits in another. These irregularities tend to be quite strong. For example, one youngster may be non-verbal, but makes good grades in all subjects as long as he takes written tests. Another student may get along fine with other students and function fine in regular classes, but must wear diapers since he is not yet toilet trained. One student may enjoy every minute of the hustle and bustle of high school whereas another may become very agitated with noisy hallways, keeping up with books and assignments, or the unpredictable nature of daily schedules.
Here are a few ideas that come to mind for teachers to consider since it is difficult to pin-down a strategy for anticipating and accommodating the needs of each student.
1. Get to know the student, avoiding any pre-set ideas about autism.
2. Balance your educational expectations, striving to help the student take continual, step-by-step progress rather than aiming for perfect behavior, perfect communication, and perfect social interaction.
3. Make accommodations for specific needs, but don’t shy away from gradually raising expectations, helping each student maximize their potential
4. Ask for input, ideas, and help with challenging issues. There are many resources to help the student make progress.
TIP FOR THE DAY: As we have mentioned before, autism is a spectrum. Some students will blend in with their fellow students right away. Other students will struggle with various issues throughout the year. Because of the individual differences, there is not one program or strategy that works for every student. You are a teacher, not a miracle-worker, so just relax and enjoy a year of learning adventures.
NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At FAQautism.com we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at talk@FAQautism.com with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. http://FAQautism.com