You may know what keeps students attentive and yearning for more learning in a classroom. However, dealing with autistic children is a whole new ballgame. Use the following pointers to create an autism-friendly environment in your classroom:
1. Put a system in place
Children with autism perform and grow well in a structured environment. Establish a routine and keep it as consistent as possible. It is better to maintain a proper routine and follow a structure while teaching a child with autism. You can define the routine such as:
- Greet the teacher
- Greet your friend sitting next to you
- Unpack your school bag
- Put your school bag in the yellow tray
- Put your notes in the red tray
- Put your lunch box in the blue tray
- Sit at your desk
Activities are successful when they are broken into small steps. If children are creating a craft such as a paper cup painting or spray-painting, define the steps clearly. Tell them when to dip the brush in the paint, when to spray, when to fold the paper and when to cut.
Autistic children get very restless in spare time. Therefore, give as little downtime between activities as possible.
2. Use Pictures
Children with autism learn faster when visuals are used. When verbal instructions demand too much focus, they’ll tune you out. A question might arise ‘For what kind of lessons can you use visuals?’ It could be anything.
If you are explaining an essay on an Indian festival, show pictures of the festival. Also, show related visuals. If you are explaining an outing, show them related illustrations like boating scenes and greenery, photos of swans and yes, good food.
Are you teaching greeting skills? If yes, you can show the pictures of children greeting their friends, bus driver, parents and teachers to make the learning more interesting. Give the relevant verbal instructions to support the same, later.
Children with autism need order and detail. They feel controlled and secure when they know what to expect. They get overwhelmed with changes in schedule. Picture schedules are always powerful because they help a student visualize the actions. For example:
Classroom on Wednesday
Show all the visuals in a sequence: pictures of a child sitting down on the chair, unpacking her/his school bag, taking notes, during recess, eating lunch, playing during sports time, singing in the music class, reading a book and packing the school bag to leave.
4. Reduce distractions
Try to arrange the seat of these children quite far from doors as well as windows. Do remember that too many colours and visual stimuli around, when not needed, can divert these kids much easily when a class is in progress.
5. It is not personal
An autistic child is not rude. The problem with such children is that they don’t get conditioned to what is socially acceptable and what is not. You may feel insulted when you do not get any response from such a child after gifting him/her something or trying to share some information with him/her. Don’t take it personally. These incidents can become cues to create learning tools for the teacher. For instance, create a “Greeting Lesson” and draw a figure saying ‘Good Morning’ on a chart.
6. Teach them to use their hands well for everyday activities
Teaching students with autism to be independent is vital to their well-being. You may be tempted to help a child who is struggling to bolt a door. But wait! Let him do it on his own. Stay patient, give him the necessary instructions and watch him do it.
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