A Guide To Autism For Teachers
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A Guide to Autism for Teachers

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One of the most common developmental disabilities that we can see nowadays is autism. Many people assume that developmental disabilities prevent people from living a normal life. However, this is not the case. Autistic children can also live normal lives, but only if they get the right treatment, therapy and support from everyone. Children with autism, which is also called autism spectrum disorder (ASD), are different because of the way their brains develop and process information. Due to this, they encounter significant social, communication and behavior challenges. Furthermore, autism affects children in different ways and their treatment varies accordingly.

Some autistic children only exhibit mild symptoms that cause only a few problems whereas in some cases the symptoms are very severe and can interfere with daily tasks. This range of symptom is referred to as a ‘spectrum’ by experts. There are some other conditions that also fall within the autism spectrum and they are Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorders (PDD). Some signs and symptoms that seem to be common in most autistic children are:

  • Little or very brief eye contact with people
  • Trouble playing with, interacting or relating to other kids and adults alike
  • Repetitive or unusual movements such as tapping, spinning or hand flapping
  • Learning difficulties in school
  • Delays in milestones pertaining to development and even loss of milestones that have already been achieved
  • Clumsiness, lack of balance, low muscle tone and poor special awareness
  • Playing with toys in a way that seems repetitive and odd

Research is still ongoing, but up until now, no cure for autism has been developed. Nonetheless, early intervention and diagnosis does help as autism can be detected as early as 18 months. This allows for early therapy and assistance through which children are able to develop the necessary skills and can then achieve their potential. One way of doing so is tailoring the therapy to every child’s individual needs and this includes educational, behavioral, occupational and speech therapies.

Students who have autism also exhibit some specific symptoms or have some issues, which include:

  • Going to the school nurse for medications
  • Getting frustrated easily and acting out in situations
  • Seeming unemotional and insensitive
  • May not speak at all or have trouble speaking
  • Miss class time due to doctor’s appointments or when going for therapy
  • Need extra time for doing homework and class assignments
  • Need to take tests in a separate room or area where there are no distractions

Moreover, it is also essential to know that bullies often target children who are ‘different’ due to which certain health conditions, including autism, put children and teenagers at a higher risk of getting bullied.

The Role of Teachers

Teachers play a vital role in the schooling of autistic children and they may need some training to deal with autism. Since a number of autistic children tend to thrive in a structured environment, teachers can help in establishing a routine and staying as consistent as possible. A number of frustrations and behavioral issues of autistic children can be addressed by following daily schedules and giving plenty of time for transitions. In the classroom setting, the kids often need instructional support. Autistic children learn better through demonstrations and pictures.

Long verbal instructions can be limited and visual cues should be provided with written instructions, where possible. Furthermore, distractions should be limited and rewards should be given out for positive behavior. A number of autistic children have deep interests and strong passion. Getting to know the likes and dislikes of students can help in understanding what motivates them and encouragement in activities can be provided accordingly by the teachers.