This is a continuation of the article How To Help An Autistic Child In The Classroom, Part 1. And I will continue as if you had read that article as they are both imperative for every teacher to know.
For anyone reading this and not familiar with autism, high functioning autistic individuals are what we are talking about. Severely autistic children are nonverbal and will not be placed in a main stream classroom.
Autism is a Developmental delay
What many teachers don’t realize, and I have only understood lately, is that autism is a developmental delay. So children with it will seem less mature than their peers.
They will not have mastered zippers and tying their shoes when others did. Lego and art projects will be more difficult for them. And in some cases, drawing will be almost worse than getting a shot.
My son was 9 when he finally could tie his shoes himself. And at 11 he still ends up with knots in his laces that he can’t manage on his own. Be patient. They can’t help that they haven’t mastered these things.
And your understanding will help relieve some of the stress they feel knowing they are behind their peers. In my son’s case his aversion to drawing and art were so significant the teacher at his school for autistic kids chose to allow him to do as much as he desired and then move on to reading a book.
Executive functioning= slow down
It wasn’t until I watched my son at the eye doctor that I began to understand. She had him look into the optometrist tool with all the lenses. And she asked him, which looks clearer, 1 or 2, 1 or 2. She was going very fast and my son just sat there.
I realized he couldn’t process what he was seeing and turn it into a verbal response fast enough for the speed she was going. So, I asked her to slow down. After she slowed down, he was able to answer her.
That is what executive functioning is, it’s the ability to process the world around you and respond appropriately. The real definition is much more complicated, but it can be summed up that way.
So, when you have a child on the spectrum in your classroom, you will need to slow down instructions. You will need to simplify them. My son still struggles to follow multi step instructions. So, you will make your life and theirs easier by giving one instruction at a time to allow them to follow it successfully.
Extra kindness will be required of you when working with a child with autism. They often need to reset their insides by “stimming”.
A stim can be hand flapping, whooping sounds, little humming tunes that repeat, or even saying the same word repeatedly.
This happens when they are overstimulated, and it is actually a self calming technique. But these stims can be disruptive. You can encourage less distracting stims but being sensitive and kind will show the class how to treat this child.
They will follow your example. Sadly, in my son’s case his teacher often yelled at him, and the class soon followed suit. These kids are sensitive to your criticism and yelling can scare them. This only adds stress to an already difficult situation, because these children will be often overwhelmed by life.
My son had to be removed from school halfway through second grade because the environment had become so toxic for him.
For my son, the stress of trying to keep his teacher happy while dealing with his own issues, triggered an anxiety disorder.
And school became a nightmarish haze. I know that you are not like his teacher. But my motivation in creating this blog is to help all teachers so no other child suffers like my son did.
As the front-line leader of the class you will witness things others will not. If you have a suspicion that a child needs help, say something. Ask the special ed team to evaluate the child.
You may be answering prayers from a worried mother. Early intervention is key to helping an autistic child overcome their challenges.
My son was finally diagnosed at 6 because my own mother found the courage to tell me that she saw something off with my son. And when he started going to ABA therapy his behavior improved dramatically.
That line of communication changed his life for the better. And I shudder to think how long he would have struggled if I hadn’t had her help. So don’t be afraid to be wrong.
You got this
Thank you for researching ways to help the students in your care. You will bless lives, and hopefully this information will create a better classroom experience for all of you.
As a mother I can tell you that my son’s teachers have a profound impact on his life. And the fact you are trying gives me confidence you will succeed in your efforts.
The world is a hard place and having a safe place to land is vital. As you work to understand your students, you will help prepare them for the world. Thank you for all you do.
Please check out my third article in this series; How to make your classroom more sensory friendly.
Abby is capable and caring. She is learning more about Autism and parenthood every day. Having completed training to be an RBT (Registered Behavior Technician) for ABA therapy she is beginning to understand her son. And even though she is the first to admit she makes a lot of mistakes, she is so grateful to be on this journey. She comes from a family with many autistic members. She invites us to join her, as she shares her adventures. She wishes to emphasize that Autism is a difference not a defect. If you or a family member have autism, Abby wants you to know that the challenges can be overcome, and there are blessings in autism. You or your loved one are not sick or broken. Together we will teach the world this new language.