Frequently Asked Questions For Educators.

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Q: What is the definition of Autism?

Autism is, according to the Mayo Clinic, a "serious neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs a child's ability to communicate and interact with others." In other words, a child with Autism may struggle with verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction due to an error that occurred during the development of the brain.

Q: What are the symptoms of Autism?

The typical symptoms of Autism vary based on the severity of the disorder, from low functioning to high functioning. Severity is determined by how severe the child's social interaction impairment is, as well as how restrictive and repetitive the child's behaviors are. While the severity of the disorder can be difficult to determine, due to the range of symptoms a child with Autism may exhibit, there are some symptoms and behaviors that show up frequently that teachers should be aware of, according to the Mayo Clinic.

  • Non responsive when being called by his or her name.

  • Generally keeps to him or herself and not interacting with other kids or adults

  • Does not keep eye contact while interacting with people, and/or does not show facial expressions

  • Does not speak or has delayed speech

  • Can not initiate conversation, or may start conversations only to ask a question or say what a certain item is in the room.

  • Speaks with an abnormal tone or rhythm, in a singsong voice or robot like speech.

  • May repeat words or phrases word for word, but does not understand what they mean.

  • Does not appear to understand simple questions or instructions

  • Does not express feelings or emotions and appears unaware of the feelings of others.

Q: What are some of the behaviors that I as the teacher should be aware of?

A: Children with autism may exhibit certain behaviors both in the classroom and out. Repetitive motions, such as the swinging of the arms, rocking back and forth, etc. or, in the most severe cases, perform acts of bodily harm, such as head-banging. Children with Autism also have great difficulty adapting to change. They like to have structure in their day, with a specific schedule of everything that is going on during any particular day, and the slightest change from that schedule may cause them a great deal of stress and anxiety. They may also be very sensitive to light, sound and touch.

Q: How common is Autism?

A: According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 out of every 68 American children are born with Autism. Research shows that improvements in the diagnosis and awareness of autism in recent years is only a small part of why this number has increased almost ten fold in the last forty years. Another interesting statistic is that Autism is much more common in males than in females. Approximately 1 out of every 42 male children in the United States has been diagnosed with Autism, while only 1 out of every 189 female children are diagnosed. In addition, studies have shown that the prevalence of Autism in America has increased by approximately 12-17% each year. The exact causes are not clear at the moment, but this is all the more reason why teachers should make sure that they are educated on what Autism is and how to handle it so they are prepared if a student diagnosed with Autism is enrolled in the class.

Q: What can I as the teacher do to support the learning of a child with Autism?

A: There are many things that teachers can do to support the learning of a child with Autism.

  • Provide a visual schedule. Students with Autism like structure and knowing exactly what they are going to be doing and when each day before it happens. Any deviation from a schedule may cause unnecessary stress and anxiety for the child. The schedule may include pictures, words, or both. It can be placed in the classroom, on the students' desks, or in the students' notebooks. This is something that all students would benefit from.

  • Provide the student with a "home base", a place where the child may work individually for a period each day. While it is important to encourage positive social interactions for students with Autism, it can be overwhelming for them if they are forced to work with groups for the entire day. Set aside a time each day for the student to take a break from socializing in order to decompress. It will be much better for the student in the long run.

  • A simple yet effective way to support the student's learning academically is to use a strategy called priming. Priming is when the teacher provides the student with the necessary information and material for a particular lesson before the lesson is actually implemented, preferably the day before, but alternatively the morning before the lesson. This allows the student to have structure and allows them to put the lesson in their schedule so that they can anticipate what will be happening the next day.

Q: Why are students with Autism in a general education classroom and not in a special education classroom?

According to the IDEA, or the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, students with disabilities are entitled to receive an education in the "least restrictive environment" possible. School districts are required by law to place students with disabilities among those that are not disabled. This is called mainstreaming, or inclusion, which is the term many prefer to use. The schools will provide the necessary additional supports for the students diagnosed with a disability such as Autism in order to help them succeed. These supports may include a one-on-one paraprofessional, extra testing time, adjusted expectations, adapting curriculum, etc.

Q: How do I address Autism to my classroom?

The best way to address Autism in the classroom is simply to talk to your class about it. There are countless books for teachers to use as a read-aloud to introduce the topic and explain to the students what Autism is. Below, you will find multiple resources to not only help you teach children with Autism, but also to teach your students about Autism. Make sure to address any possible misconceptions to avoid creating a negative learning environment.

Q: What are some misconceptions about Autism that I should look out for and address?

There are many misconceptions that students may have. PBS has created a list of myths that are out there about Autism. I have included some here.

Myth: Autism is a mental health disorder.
Autism is a neurological disorder. Studies of the people with autism have revealed abnormalities in brain structure and neurotransmitter levels.

Myth: Individuals with Autism are violent.
Though there have been recent news stories relating autism to violence, violent acts from autistic individuals usually arise from sensory overload or emotional distress, and it is unusual for individuals with autism to act violently out of malice or pose any danger to society.

Myth: Individuals with autism are unable or unwilling to form meaningful social relationships.
Though many individuals with autism have difficulty with social interaction, they can have close social relationships, fall in love and have children.

Myth: All individuals with autism have savant abilities.
While there is a higher prevalence of savant abilities among those with autism, only about 10 percent of individuals with autism exhibit savant abilities. Some have what are called “splinter skills,” meaning skills in one or two areas that are above their overall performance abilities.

Myth: All individuals with autism have mental disabilities.
Individuals on the autism spectrum are unique, with a wide range of intellectual abilities that easily can be under- or over-estimated. Tests designed to include language and interpersonal analyses may misrepresent the intelligence of people with autism, who struggle with social skills, and individuals with autism may have difficulty with tasks considered simple, but quickly master complex tasks and concepts. Individuals on the autism spectrum have also earned college and graduate degrees and work in a variety of professions. Conversely, it may be assumed that an individual with autism has a higher level of understanding than they do, based on their behavior, language skills or high-level of ability in a specific area.

Myth: People with autism are cold and lack empathetic feelings.
Individuals with autism feel as much, if not more, empathy than others, but they may express it in ways that are harder to recognize.

Additional Resources

Below are some excellent websites dedicated to helping teachers teach students with Autism effectively, along with providing ample tools to use in your classroom.
Teaching Students with Autism
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