It’s Autism Awareness Month! We have come a long way in understanding what autism spectrum disorder is (ASD), finding strategies to help ASD students in the classroom, and ending the stigma around it. However, we still have a long way to go. The more informed we are, the closer we get to truly ending the stigma around students with ASD.
What is Autism?
As AutismSpeaks.org describes it, “Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication.” Another great way of explaining this to students, especially younger, is that those with ASD think a little differently than we do. Their brain might not like certain noises, touches; they may move in certain ways that other may not, and it may take them more time to make friends. It is important to note that when teaching students about ASD, that they are patient, kind and understanding.
Most of the time, autism is accompanied by other sensory or medical issues, for example: sensitive to noise, either hyper or hypo, sleep disorders, and even mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. Autism is also on a long spectrum, meaning that there are a “wide variation in challenges and strengths possessed by each person with autism.” It is important to understand that all people with ASD are not the same. We cannot assume all students/others with ASD have the same sensitivities and medical conditions; this does not differ from people who do not have ASD.
Stigma and False Beliefs around Autism
You can grow out of autism. This is absolutely not true- one does not grow out of ASD. However, early intervention is key. Having a diagnosis can lead to more support and resources in the community and school!
Children/Adults with ASD cannot form close relationships. Many people with ASD have the ability to form wonderful relationships with friends and family members.
Children with ASD do not have the same abilities and children without ASD, and therefore will not succeed in the classroom. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, therefore why should ASD be something that is seen as a weakness? Autism is often viewed as a fault and something to be ashamed of, when in fact, it’s the opposite. ASD simply means that the child will learn in a different way, however, don’t all children? Some are visual some are hands on; for students with ASD, we need to be mindful of their learning styles and abilities, as well as be aware of their sensory needs.
It is better to not have my child diagnosed as they will be labeled and have a worse time in school. Again, early intervention is key. With their diagnosis comes better support, more resources and it will ease their school life so much more.
Students with ASD in the Classroom
Structure. It is important that your classroom has a structure and a routine. Students with ASD like having their daily routine, knowing what they need to do and knowing what comes next.
Visuals. Having a visual schedule will allow them to see the daily schedule, what classes and activities they have, and how to prepare for them. It may also help to have visuals of routines, such as bathroom routines, getting dressed to go outside, or even how to perform an activity.
Peace Corner / Safe Space. In a classroom, sometimes students with ASD can experience a sensory overload. In this case, it is helpful to have a corner in the classroom dedicated to calming down, relaxing and recharging. Safe spaces can include pillows, sensory toys, calming technique visuals and whatever else you feel is needed for that individual student.