Classroom Support For Children With Autism
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) generally find school a difficult place due to their challenges with communication, social skills and sensory integration. As classroom sizes remain large (25 plus students) and Educational Assistants (EA) continue to be limited, these children also face challenges to learn and participate within the classroom. These children need classroom support.
DIFFICULTIES WITH NOT HAVING CLASSROOM SUPPORT
- Communication difficulties with the teachers, EA’s and peers. Difficulties in understanding and expressing language will lead to problems explaining their needs or verbally answering a question. They may not understand or respond to a question unless it is asked in certain way. Classroom support can help these children.
- Following classroom instructions. A child with Autism encounters difficulty processing language and therefore may have problems carrying out the teacher’s directions.
- Following social rules within the classroom. Due to the difficulties with social skills, children with Autism have a hard time following the classroom rules (e.g. raise your hand to get the teacher’s attention), understand how they should behave (e.g. sit at their desk), and understand the feelings of their peers (e.g. why a classmate is crying). These children need classroom support to navigate the social world.
- Difficulties with following the rules during a game may also occur during free time or recess. A child with Autism may be only able to play a game exactly how it is learned (e.g. red piece always has to go before the blue). Sometimes they will not engage in following the rules or completing an activity due to the sensory restrictions (e.g. playing with sand).
- Concentrating on a task. Blocking out the background noise in the classroom or switching attention between tasks is also a challenge. Providing a visual schedule will help the student transition to the next task.
HOW TO HELP A CHILD WITH AUTISM: CLASSROOM SUPPORT
Teachers, EA’s and peers can help to provide classroom support and provide opportunities to participate in class for children with Autism by implementing the following suggestions.
- In order to assist the child with communication difficulties use simple language with visual prompts to help the child understand the message.
- Ensure to understand the child’s method of communication. For example, a child with limited verbal output may be using Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC). AAC is any visual support used for understanding, to supplement existing speech or used as a means for expressive out-put for a child who is unable to produce speech (e.g. using an IPad or picture symbols). This is a great classroom support for a child who uses an AAC device.
- It is important to provide the child with time to process the information as well as create the message if they are using an alterative means to speech. Allow at least 5 seconds for the child to respond. If they don’t answer right away, it may be easier to ask them a question which involves a yes/no answer, provide them with a choice or model the answer.
Take these suggestions as a starting point and then continue to create your own specific classroom support to meet the needs of the children in your classroom.
Teri Lynam is a registered Speech-Language Pathologist with ten years of experience working in the field of communication disorders. She has a special interest in early language, literacy development, acquired brain injury, motor speech and resonance disorders. Teri is committed to providing individualized family-centered therapy in a fun and supportive environment.