Autism Spectrum Disorder
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
It seems that ASD has been more and more prevalent among our students over the last several years. It is no longer a rare condition, but rather, it is now rare to have a school in which there are no students with ASD!! It can be confusing for educators and parents to recognize and understand ASD because there is such a huge spectrum of behaviours and abilities.
ASD is a severe learning disorder that is characterized by disturbances in social and communication abilities (environment, language, speech, perception) and an inability to relate to others emotionally. Several disorders are included in diagnoses and you may see symptoms and characteristics in a variety of combinations or severity. These can be mild to profound.
This is a noticeable impairment in social and communication development, especially language. These children get very preoccupied with one interest and must always follow the routines.
This is the same as Autism, except there is no major delay in language acquisition, cognitive development or learning skills/behaviours. These children still have restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests and activities. They may feel socially isolated and anxious.
Pervasive Development Disorder Not Otherwise Specified
This is a severe impairment in the development of social interaction skills (verbal or non-verbal). These children have stereotyped behaviours, interests and activities.
Teaching Students with ASD
Because there is such a range of behaviours, abilities and needs within ASD, you often will find what works for one student may not work for another. The most important thing that teachers need to do if they have a student with ASD is to gather as much information on that student as possible, as soon as possible. Right at the start of the year and then as often as needed, teachers must meet with parents, consult the student's OSR, check for assessments and gather any information from outside organizations that may have been involved with this child.
Teachers may see quite a range of behaviours. This chart outlines only a few possible issues within the classroom:
How do we help these students to be successful?
The single, most important strategy for helping our students with ASD, is to ensure regular, ongoing communication with parents. Because these students have so many issues across such a wide spectrum, we can't assume we know what works for all of them. Parents know their children best, and parents are the best source of data you've got.
We need to know all that we can, so developing a learning profile early on is essential. Gather data from previous assessments, observations of skills and behaviours, information from parents and prior teachers, and even information from outside sources if possible.
Of course, our teaching and assessing must take into consideration the varied needs of each student, but there are strategies that often work to help our ASD students to be successful.
1. use lots of visuals to support instructions and lessons
2. give students extra time to process and complete tasks
3. alternative assignments (drawings, oral if verbal skills allow, yes/no or true/false cards, etc.)
4. quiet setting
5. frequent breaks
6. repetition and games to teach skills and concepts
7. graphic organizers
8. assistive technology
9. peer support
10. strategic grouping and seating
12. match materials to his/her interests and level
13. predictable and stable environment and routines
14. removal of stimulating objects
15. development of I.E.P. to identify accommodations, modifications and alternative expectations as needed
16. Applied Behaviour Analysis to teach behaviours
17. Plans and warnings for transitions
Often, students with ASD get very fixated on things that stimulate them somehow ("stims"). It can be impossible to calm them down or redirect their attention. Many schools are now installing special rooms designed to calm and soothe students when nothing else can. I've seen these rooms in schools and have watched them work.
Check out the video below to see inside a sensory room from Kitchener!
We must remember, our students with Autism are precious children, just like all of our other students. If ever we are feeling frustrated or at a loss, remember these parents' testimonies about their "faces of autism".