While public awareness of autism spectrum disorder has increased significantly in recent years, many caring people still have apprehension and misinformation about how best to encourage autistic students to reach their potential. UC Clermont College is one place that is taking the lead in advancing support for autistic students, awarding diversity grants in 2015 to help these students reach their full potential. Yet, the need actions like this and for better public education is immediate, since the Centers for Disease Control have estimated that one in three children have some form of the condition. Hence, it is vital for parents, teachers and others to develop basic strategies for supporting autistic students. For now, best practices for teaching and encouraging autistic students include these six suggestions:
State one’s meaning clearly and literally. For example, saying that a school assignment should be “a piece of cake” has the intention of encouragement, but the student may expect an actual piece of cake. Rather than idioms, expressions or the best-intentioned jokes, use straightforward sentences.
Maintain a consistent schedule. Predictability is particularly reassuring for students with autism. If possible, have daily learning activities each day in the same environment with the same support persons. Changing surroundings can distract the students’ focus. It may even be a good idea to write down the class schedule for the day somewhere that they can easily see it.
Add visual cues to words. Rather than simply mention that recess time can include sports, also point to pictures of basketballs or swings that reinforce the verbal message. That way you can help reach out to every different type of learner.
Demonstrate how to perform desired tasks. If one wishes for students to return written work to a basket on a table, walk to the table and place a paper in the basket. This helps students to gain greater mastery over their work space.
Be affirming, even in difficult situations. Autistic students have no intention to cause distress or harm feelings. Allowing students to write out their frustrations can sometimes have a calming effect.
Sense of Security
Have a “safe place” ready. Autistic students can benefit from being in an area with minimal distractions, not only from obvious things such as loud chatter but even “loud” colors or the hum of a radiator. Sometimes simply being able to work near a trusted person like a teacher can help autistic students maintain concentration.
Overall, there are tons of great resources out there to help these students acknowledge how smart they really are, and find their true potential. All you have to do is reach out to them and let them know you care. That can definitely be what makes the biggest difference.