8 Strategies and Methods for Teaching Autistic Children: Best Practices
Sep 22, 202115 mins read
The most important thing to know about teaching autistic children is that they are not, in fact, all the same. This can be difficult for teachers who are looking for one specific strategy to work across the board. But what works best depends on each individual student’s needs and personality.
A teacher has to learn how to identify these differences and come up with an approach suited just for them! There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to teaching autistic children - this blog post will show you strategies that have worked well in classrooms before, but remember: every child is different so try out a few until you find one that really clicks!
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability that affects the way people communicate and interact with others. It generally appears during the first three years of life.
ASD is characterised by: problems with social interaction and communication; and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests, and activities. There are different levels of severity associated with autism disorders ranging from mild to severe.
Characteristics of autism include sensory issues, lack or low quality speech/communication, trouble staying focused on an object or task for extended periods of time such as playing with Lego’s or colouring in a book for more than 15 minutes at a time.
As well as hand flapping or hand biting behaviours which can be calming gestures for some children but may cause sensory issues for others.
When teaching autistic children it is important to break down tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. For example when teaching a task such as writing letters of the alphabet, start with only focusing on uppercase letters for short periods of time 3-5 minutes before moving onto lowercase. This will help prevent sensory issue overload.
Another thing to keep in mind while teaching autistic children is that they can get overwhelmed by certain noises or furniture arrangement where they are sitting. If this happens the child’s behaviour may change drastically and become non-compliant or even aggressive due to stress/frustration levels getting too high.
When dealing with these types of behaviours make sure you stay calm, be firm but kind, provide a space or object to help with sensory issues if needed and have an escape plan in the event of a meltdown. For example you could move your child’s desk into another part of the room that has lower level lighting, less noise levels and allows for more privacy by closing doors.
It is also helpful to have the child sitting next to you or at least within sight so you can help calm them if they are attempting to hurt themselves.
The three main concepts to teach autistic preschoolers are language, play skills and social interactions.
It is important to use a child’s interests in order to catch their attention while teaching these topics which can be easily applied for example when teaching the concept of emotions you could talk about your child’s favourite character from a TV show or movie.
By doing this you make learning fun and increase positive interaction between yourself and the student.
One effective way of teaching autistic children is by using visual schedules to help them understand daily routines such as going to school or getting dressed.
More visual strategies for teaching autistic children include visual cues and symbols that are effective in helping children understand concepts such as emotions or weather. These have been discussed in detail below.
Visual supports are visual cues or prompts that assist students in understanding expectations or instructions, remember tasks, stay on task during group work, show what materials they need for a particular activity and direct visual attention to an object of interest.
In addition to visual cues, symbols can also be used as prompts or rules about an activity happening now or going on soon. They are an important part of visual strategies for autistic students. Symbols are typically simple images with minimal written words so as not to overwhelm those with autism.
Some common symbols include pictures representing emotions, objects related to an upcoming task such as a shower next before recess or a reminder to bring a coat if it is cold outside.
Visual strategies for students with autism can be used to help children with autism learn and comprehend new material, work on fine motor skills, help promote independence and improve conversational language skills.
- Use brightly coloured visuals for high contrast levels that are more appealing to the eye
- Use symbols instead of words wherever possible (i.e.: smiley faces or pictures of objects)
- Use symbols in combination with words when visualising tasks/concepts i.e.: use a picture of an apple followed by EAT under it so they can find out where the “apple” is located in the grocery store
Auditory supports can be used to help children with autism learn, work on fine motor skills , increase vocalisations and language skills.
Make sure the volume of music is turned low in order to reduce the amount of background noise that may distract them from one task or another.
Use songs or music with repetitive structures to promote vocalisations. Allow the child to have a turn hitting objects on their special “music table” so it can be an individual activity but also helps to promote good listening skills.
Tactile supports can be used to help children with autism learn, work on fine motor skills , increase social awareness and decrease irritability.
Tactile supports are sometimes overlooked as being just for children who have tactile sensitivities however they are beneficial tools that can be used in many ways such as hand over hand assistance when learning new tasks, turning pages in a book, helping them put certain clothing items on, eating utensils etc…
Task analysis is used to break down tasks so they are easier for an individual to understand and follow. Breaking down tasks can help individuals with autism remain focused on the step they need to complete at a given time, therefore improving attention spans.
Additionally this helps with organisation skills and independent functioning skills i.e.: cooking
A picture schedule can be made using pictures of common activities in the child’s daily routine such as: getting dressed, brushing teeth, packing books into backpack etc.
These can be laminated or put into plastic sleeves and hung up in prominent areas such as around their bedroom door or above their bed (for pre-school children) for easy reference.
Visual cues can be used with students who are non-verbal or with poor speech/communication skills so they can effectively communicate their wants and needs i.e. a visual cue card made with a picture of an apple followed by EAT under it to show that individual where the “apple” is located in the grocery store
A social story contains specific information about what is socially appropriate behaviour as well as reasons why certain behaviours may not be acceptable i.e. brushing your teeth before dinner because you don’t want food stuck in your teeth during dinner time .
Visual schedules/visual supports can be used with students who are non-verbal or with limited verbal skills to promote organisation and independence in daily living activities such as mealtimes, outings to the park etc…
Social skills groups help students learn how to interact more successfully in group settings i.e.: socialising with classmates during recess at school or on the playground.
These sessions also give individuals with autism opportunities for role playing and practicing what they have learned before trying them out socially (provided that some form of reinforcement is offered such as a favourite activity after they complete it successfully.
The importance of subtitles or captioning cannot be overlooked while considering teaching strategies for students with autism. Students with autism are often unable to process the content of a classroom, but captions can help them focus and understand what’s going on.
Captions can help students with autism process audio, focus on the lesson and understand what they’re being taught.
Television shows and movies with subtitles and/or captions on display can help use subtitles to learn a foreign language and allow the child to watch their favourite show but also be taught new words and different ways to say things i.e. instead of saying “I want it” a child can learn that they need to say “May I have it please?”
The importance of subtitles or captions is often overlooked, but it’s paramount to use of television and children language development.
A lot goes on during a television show that can’t be understood without the use of subtitles for autistic children; this includes scenes with intense emotional content.
Besides the importance of subtitles in television and children language development, captions or subtitles provide a second input stream that can help in teaching autistic children who might struggle with audio processing.
Captions shows visual cues, identifying what’s being said in addition to identifying other sounds e.g. birds chirping or car tires screeching. They can be a great way for teachers who are teaching students with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or other disabilities.
Teaching these kids in captioned video formats will help them process information better, focus more easily on instruction when it’s spoken rather than just read from screens because they’re not used to seeing text except as part of the curriculum materials themselves.
It also helps decrease confusion by providing subtitles which may make up part-of what we say during class discussions - this brings ease understanding since there won’t always need facial expressions communicated through body language alone!
Social skills journals track social behaviours for children who may not naturally display them. By keeping track of these experiences it provides opportunities for role playing activities in which the student is able to see what they did well and how they can improve next time.
When feelings are explained in the moment it helps students who have difficulty reading social cues recognise the feelings of others.
Emotion cards are a great way for students with autism to identify different emotions. Shuffle the pack and go through each card, asking your child if they can recognise what emotion is shown without looking at it.
If they get stuck showing embarrassment (a word like “embarrassed”) then teach them about how an individual might feel when his/her feelings have been revealed publicly after accidentally doing something silly or wrong that he doesn’t want everyone else knows so well either!
Board games are an excellent way for teaching autistic children manners and demonstrate the importance of being polite. In addition, this simple but effective activity puts a twist on some classic board game varieties by requiring players before they start playing (or upon completion) wish their opponent “good luck” or “game well played.”
Background noise is a common occurrence in TV programs or youtube videos. With or without hearing difficulty, all of us miss words from time to time and it can be especially frustrating for anyone who has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) because they need complete information.
By using auto subtitle generators like SubtitleBee, you can add subtitles for 100+ languages to videos and use them as a teaching strategy for students with autism. Captions will help fill those gaps by providing more details a when necessary which would give viewers deeper insight and also improve their comprehension skills.
As you can see, there is no one strategy that will work for every autistic child. The most important thing to know about teaching autistic children is that they are not, in fact, all the same and what works best depends on each individual student’s needs and personality.
Teachers are often looking for one specific strategy to work across the board. But what works best can differ student by student. This blog post should give you some ideas, but remember that an effective approach is different for every child!