I read this beautiful blog recently. It was written by someone who was diagnosed with Asperger’s later in life, and talks about how their ‘cup of human interaction’ was full and how hard this made school.
It was timed perfectly as I had just had this discussion with a parent whose child was starting to school refuse. So, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to write some tips for an Autism Friendly Classroom- with a specific focus on reducing the social interactions that people with Autism (ASD) may find so overwhelming.
- Use lots of visuals: children with Autism learn faster with visuals, and it reduces the amount of verbal processing they need to do. Make sure the visuals are age appropriate (pictures to support instructions and routines are great in grades Prep – 2, a high functioning grade 5er won’t thank you for it!) Don’t forget to be creative: they can use diaries/lists/iPads to support themselves.
- Create a distraction free environment: most neurotypical (non-ASD) teachers love a colourful classroom with lots on display. The processing capacity this requires for a child with Autism is likely to overwhelm them. Provide a quiet workstation that *any* child can use when they need a quiet space. This will normalise this form of self-regulation for the child with Autism, and all children in the classroom.
- Have a breakout space: Children with Autism are often taught how to recognise when they are feeling overwhelmed in therapy. However, this skill is useless if they can’t then put this into practice. Some children may need a quiet space or tepee in the corner of the room they can access any time; others may need a separate room or office they can go to when needed. They can take their work to this place and complete it without all the social and sensory pressures of the classroom.
- Think about social times: Most children need to let off steam in their recess or lunch break and they will do this in different ways. Some love to run around, some to sit quietly with one or two friends, some would love to go to a library and be alone. Think about the options you have available in your school, and practice getting children to check in with their feelings, and work out what they need to do to be ready to learn afterward.
- Use simple language: This works for any child. Don’t give too many instructions at once, use concrete language, don’t use saracasm.
Remember that all children are different: it is important to monitor success of strategies over time, and adapt these as needed. If you are looking for individual PD to support a child with Autism in your school, below are a list of resources you may find useful:
Amaze (www.amaze.org.au) previously known as Autism Victoria, provides tip sheets and training
Sue Larkey (www.suelarkey.com.au) is a highly experienced and inspirational special educator who provides tip sheets and online e-learning that specialises in supporting children with Autism
Victorian State Government (www.education.gov.au) provides resources to support your professional development
Inclusive Classrooms (www.inclusiveclassrooms.com.au) can also provide individualised, tailored training in your school, meeting your whole school’s professional development needs in a time and place that suits you