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Autism in the Classroom: Overcoming Challenges

MMAOTHO SEGOTSO
While every child with autism presents with unique needs and behaviours, it’s important for teachers to understand the general types of concerns they are likely to encounter.

1) Cognitive Processing Delays

Processing delays should never be confused with intelligence. Processing delays have little do to with the capacity to incorporate and evaluate observations and ideas. Delays in the ability to process verbal or written language have a neurological basis. For those individuals who suffer delays, facts, ideas, and questions are often delayed or even lost in translation from language to thought and vice-versa.

In a classroom, where children are expected to shoot up their hands in response to questions, processing delays can present a seemingly impossible barrier with both learning and social consequences.

Strategies to use:

Give the student the time needed to process a fact or a question, before expecting a response. Some students can be taught various methods to buy needed time, including restating of the question, asking for a few seconds, or simply putting up a finger to signify they are thinking.

Sensory Perception Issues

Any of the senses can be involved. A child might be especially sensitive to certain sounds, have a poor sense of balance and lack depth perception, and / or be unable to tolerate certain tastes and textures of foods. Even the scratching of a pencil across a piece of piece might set that child’s nerves on end in the same way that many of us are reduced to quivering when a piece of chalk squeaks on a board.

What to do:

The teacher needs to encourage the student to tell the teacher without shame about any environmental distractions. By doing this, the teacher and administrators may learn to appreciate and alleviate many problems that can interfere with the student’s ability to learn.

Social Skill Deficits

Social skill deficits can make a student with autism, the odd child out. Without training and sufficient mindfulness, even well-meaning teachers might slip into intimidating and sometimes even bullying behavior with the child who is always lagging behind and just odd.

The schoolroom is the perfect setting to acquire and practice social skills. The conscientious teacher can do much to help promote this and encourage the tolerance and involvement of other students to help the child become socially fluid both in terms of emoting his or her own feeling and state of being as well with interpreting the meaning and feeling implied in the expressions, words, and actions of others.

Expression Challenges

For those children who possess the intellectual capacity to function in the general class, speech and language skills can still present a number of obstacles.

They may have problems expressing their own emotions and feelings as well perceiving and knowing how to respond to those of others. This can be as extreme as lacking the ability to recognise faces and differentiate between different people, or as subtle as lacking the ability to appreciate and make use of nuance and tone of voice when communicating.

Motor Skill Challenges 

Motor skill challenges can present as an inability to master handwriting. Forcing a child to do endless handwriting practice is never a good solution, yet this is the most common approach for children with poor handwriting. What typically occurs with forced solo practice is that the child’s bad habits are reinforced. With some children, handwriting issues are best addressed by a trained occupational or behavioural therapist.

Classroom Management Strategies for Children with Special Needs

Inclusion is a great thing. Children with special needs are no longer isolated in “Special Ed” classrooms and only seen on

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the playground or in the lunchroom. Kids with special needs thrive in the presence of their peers. There are so many lessons that children with special needs can learn from other kids, and so many friendships to be formed.

Children with autism spectrum disorder and other learning disabilities, such as ADHD, perform better, both academically and socially, if the classroom is set up to accommodate their special needs.

Teachers are called upon to  be creative and innovative when preparing classrooms. Managing an all-inclusive classroom is easier if simple, personalised teaching strategies for special needs student are implemented. The following tips will help you create a learning environment that will help students bloom where they are planted!

  • Set the desks in the classroom is rows, rather than using circular seating around large tables, if possible. Students with autism need their own space. The student with ADHD is easily distracted, so a seat close to the teacher, facing forward works best. Children with special needs are easily distracted, so keep their desks away from the windows, doors and activity centers in the classroom.
  • Post classroom rules in a conspicuous place in the classroom, and review the regularly. Ask students to take turns reading the rules aloud as part of the daily routine. Make sure all students understand the rules of the classroom and the consequences for not adhering to them. It may be helpful to allow the class to help formulate the classroom rules.
  • Keep it simple. Give verbal prompts frequently, and be sure your instructions are easy to understand. Repeat instructions if the student does not seem to comprehend what you are saying.
  • Use visual aids such as charts, graphs, and pictures. Children with autism tend to respond well to technology.
  • Peers can be wonderful role models for students on the autism spectrum. Pair compatible children together when working on projects or participating in classroom activities. Many children welcome the opportunity to be a peer role model to special needs student. The experience is not only positive for the student with autism, but for the peer counselor as well.
  • Have a predictable schedule. Children with autism tend to prefer predictable routines. Give advance warning if the daily schedule is going to change. If there is going to be a field trip, a special guest in the classroom, or a substitute teacher, try to let the class know in advance. Unexpected changes in the routine can be difficult for the child with autism.
  •  Teach social skills, such as hand raising, taking turns and sharing as part of the learning curriculum. All students will benefit when reminders are given. Children with autism often engage in self-stimulating behaviours such as hand flapping, rocking or even slapping themselves in the face. Help the other students in the class understand these behaviours.
  • Provide opportunities to take a break. Read a story, play a short game, stand up and stretch, or have casual conversation. Sometimes an opportunity to get out of his seat and walk around the room can be very calming for the child on the autism spectrum. Try to be aware of the signs that your student may need a short break.
  • Focus on student strengths. If a child is interested in dinosaurs, baseball, dogs or water sports, he needs the opportunity to exhibit his expertise in that subject

Source: Brain Parade, June 16, 2015

Stay encouraged as you help differently able children!



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