For educators, the diversity present in classrooms need not be overwhelming. There are a number of simple, highly-flexible steps educators and other team members can take to prepare for the inclusion of children who experience autism in classrooms.
Educators and Self-Education
In order to instruct students with autism, educators must have a working understanding of autism and what it means in relation to specific students. Students with autism exhibit behaviors associated with the disability. At times, children with autism might behave in a manner that is disruptive or inappropriate, yet their behaviors are more related to the disability they experience instead of acts that are deliberately negative. Educator self-education related to autism and the ways it may affect students specifically can help to achieve success for everyone involved.
Educators will find their knowledge of autism evolves as their relationships with students and their family members develops and their awareness of the disability and skills in working with interactions in classes grows. Keeping an open attitude to learning and working closely with family members as well as the school team helps educators to succeed over time.
Interactions with Family Members
Parents and other family members are the best source of information about a student with autism. It is important for educators to establish a working relationship with a student's family members. In the most ideal situation this starts with a meeting or meetings prior to the beginning of the school year. After these meetings, it is important to establish mutually agreed upon modes and patterns of communicating with family members throughout the school year.
It is vital for educators to build trust between family members of students with autism and themselves. Communication with family members about the progress of students must be ongoing. Even though the information exchange might often times focus on current challenges in the classroom, the strategies that are or have been used, as well as ideas for alternative solutions - it is important not to forget to include positive feedback about accomplishments and milestones the student has achieved.
Preparations in the Classroom
Educators can prepare their classrooms to accommodate students with autism. There are ways to accommodate children with autism in classrooms that can enhance their opportunity to learn without affecting plans for educating the class as a whole. While there are some practical limitations on how much an educator can modify the physical environment of a classroom, even a few accommodation which support a child with autism can have incredible results. The accommodations depend upon the specific student or students with autism.
Educating Peers and Promoting Social Goals
Educators need to make every effort they can to promote acceptance of students with autism as full members and integral parts of classes they are involved with- even a student with autism attends class for only a few hours each week. As an educator of a child with autism, it is important to create a social environment that encourages positive interactions between the child and their peers throughout the entire day. Children who experience autism also experience difficulties related to socialization, social cues, and understanding language. With appropriate assistance, children with autism can engage with their peers and establish enjoyable and lasting friendships.
Research has shown that students without autism demonstrate more positive attitudes, greater understanding, as well as increased acceptance of students with autism when they are provided with clear, accurate and straightforward information about the disability. If there are no restrictions related to the disclosure of the fact that a student has autism, educating a class about the disability and the effects on a student may be an effective way to increase positive social interactions between a student who experiences autism and their peers.
It is important for educators to bear in mind that a number of social interactions happen outside of classrooms. Without prior planning and additional assistance, students with autism might end up isolated outside of class. Educators may choose to create a, 'Circle of Friends,' filled with a rotating group of buddies who are responsible and interact with a student who experiences autism. The peers who form the Circle of Friends will not abandon their friend with autism; they serve as models of appropriate school behavior, and protect the student with autism from bullying or teasing. The Circle of Friends also extends outside of school.
Collaborating on the Implementation of an Individualized Education Program (IEP)
A student with autism has needs needs beyond academic ones. Their educational plan is defined by an, 'Individualized Eduction Program (IEP).' An IEP is an outline of the things that will happen to a student over a school year. An educator is the main observer and instructor of a child with disabilities, playing a key role in the development, implementation, and evaluation of their IEP. An educator is responsible for reporting to the child's IEP team regarding the child's progress towards meeting specific academic, social, and behavioral goals and objectives related to their IEP. Educators are also asked for their input about the development of new goals for students with disabilities in upcoming IEP meetings.
IEP's are created by a multidisciplinary team of educational professionals and the parents of a child with disabilities such as autism, and are tailored to fit the needs of the particular student. General and special education teachers, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, school psychologists, as well as family members make up the IEP team. An IEP team meets on a regular basis to discuss a student's progress in relation to their IEP goals.
An assessment team gathers information about a student with autism before their IEP team meets with the goal of making an evaluation and recommendation. After this step, one person on the evaluation team coordinates all of the information and the IEP team meets to make recommendation for the student. The team meets again to write the IEP, basing it on the evaluation and the suggestions made by the team member.
A student's IEP always includes things such as short-term objectives, annual goals, special education services the student needs, as well as a yearly evaluation to find out if the goals of the IEP were met. Short-term goals in the student's IEP should have both incremental and sequential steps aimed at meeting the student's annual goals. The annual goals associated with the student's IEP must explain measurable behaviors so the progress that needs to be made by the end of the year is clearly understood.
Educators and Managing Behavioral Challenges
Students with autism may exhibit problem behaviors that are triggered for a number of reasons. The behaviors might include things such as running around the classroom, a temper tantrum, self-injurious behaviors, loud vocalizations, or other types of distracting or disruptive behaviors. Children with autism many times experience difficulties with communicating in socially acceptable ways and may, 'act-out,' when they become confused or are fearful about something.
An educator's first challenge is to figure out the cause, or function, of a particular behavior. Take the time to look for patterns of behaviors such as when a student exhibits the behavior or does not. Communicate with family members and the student's other IEP team members. Observe the student's behavior in the context in which it occurs to learn the function of the behavior.
It is also important to use consistent and positive behavioral reinforcement techniques with the goal of promoting positive and constructive social behaviors in children with autism. A student's IEP should have solid and explicit positive behavioral goals and a variety of methods for the promotion of these goals. The student's parents and other IEP team members might be able to suggest visual recognition techniques, as well as an incentive system that educators can use to reinforce positive behaviors.
Educators might choose to ignore certain negative behaviors, or present predetermined consequences related to them. Consistency is important when reacting to behaviors over time, as well as the use of a number of positive strategies with the goal of promoting positive social behaviors whenever possible.
As educators learn more about children with autism, they have the opportunity to become a mentor to other educators who are facing similar challenges for the first time. The communication skills educators gain help them to create meaningful alliances with parents. More than anything, the collaboration skills educators achieve help them to work as a vital part of a child with autism's IEP team to support the child throughout their school year. Patience, kindness, and educational professionalism make a huge difference in the lives of every student.
Examples of IEP Goals and Objectives Suggestions For Students With Autism
On this page you will find a listing of suggestions and objectives that might be included in the Individualized Education Plans of students who experience autism. The list is fairly extensive and presents some interesting ideas.
The Importance of an Appropriate Education
While autism affects each child differently, most children with autism do not learn like typically developing children, by observing and imitating what they hear and see others say and do. Children with autism lack the internal mechanism by which typical children learn how to communicate, behave and play. Therefore, they must, "learn how to learn."
Autism Education Programs
"For children with autism education programs are generally used as the first line of defense to treat Autism Spectrum Disorders. Autism education can also complement other interventions. The National Academy of Sciences (2001) recommends educational programs that are intensive (more than 25 hours a week), engage the child and are directed toward a strategic goal."