Children with an autism spectrum disorder have trouble making sense of the world around them. They likely have sensory issues, difficulty with social skills and struggle to communicate their needs. These challenges can make the classroom an uncomfortable place for a child with autism. Their classroom teacher can take several steps to make learning easier for an autistic child.
Teaming Up with Parents
The child's parents have likely been working with their child's limitations due to autism for years. They are a great resource for finding out how to cater a lesson to their child's specific needs. The parents will know what has and has not worked for their child in past classrooms. Arrange a meeting with them in the beginning of the school year, and check in with them periodically throughout the school year, whether or not issues arise. No doubt they will want to know how their child is doing in the classroom, aside from the reports they get from the student themselves.
Managing Sensory Issues
If the parents tell the teacher about any sensory issues, such as difficulty with loud noises or close proximity to classmates, it will be beneficial for the teacher to work on ways to minimize these challenges. While it is impossible to eliminate any potential sensory triggers, the teacher can prepare for known issues. For example, if the child does not react well to the florescent lighting found in most classrooms, the teacher can move the student to a spot in the classroom near a window, for more natural light.
Building Social Skills
An autistic child frequently struggles with appropriate social responses. This makes it difficult for the child to get along with classmates and make friends. The teacher can help the child socially by explaining to his classmates, in basic terms, the implications of autism and by educating the autistic child on social cues. To introduce the topic of autism, the teacher may read a book written to explain autism to children. "Looking After Louis" by Leslie Ely is a good choice for this activity. If the other students are already familiar with the child's social limitations, say if they have been in the classroom with them for years, then the teacher can focus on helping the child to connect with his classmates. Social cues flashcards -- cards with pictures of faces showing emotions -- can be a tremendous help for children who have difficulty interpreting others' emotions by looking at their face. Recognizing their classmates' emotions can help the autistic child to react appropriately in social situations.
Helping the Child with Communication
The classroom teacher can help an autistic child to communicate their needs throughout the school day. Autistic children struggle with expressing themselves, and teachers can aid in this process by providing pictures of items or of people demonstrating common requests that the child might have while in the classroom. If the child is overwhelmed and has trouble expressing themselves during a stressful moment, she can point to the picture to help communicate with her teacher, and work though the situation.
Organized, Predictable Schedule is Essential
All students benefit from an organized classroom schedule, but autistic children in particular thrive under a system with predictability. Knowing what comes next in the school day helps the autistic child to feel in control. They are better able to manage stressful feelings that may come with transitioning from one activity to the next. Having a routine in the classroom will help both the teacher and the child to avoid stressful triggers that can come from an autism spectrum disorder.