Autism is a developmental disability, which is defined as a syndrome. A syndrome is simply a combination of signs or characteristics that can be used to identify a particular condition. Autism is a lifelong condition that has a combination of both developmental and behavioral features.
People with autism experience varying degrees of problems in social communication.
Difficulty in Reading Social Cues: We look at someone's facial gestures to determine if they are happy or sad. What if there wasn't an expression? Students with autism may say things as "matter of fact." Students often struggle to understand or correctly use tone of voice, gestures, body posture, or facial expressions.
Challenges of Social Interaction/Social Understanding: People with autism have great difficult in relating to other people, which means:
- they exhibit inappropriate eye contact.
- they use laughter, or say things and behave in ways that are not suitable for the circumstances they are in.
- they do not understand about relationships, especially in terms of friendships or meeting strangers.
- they frequently seem to be disinterested in others by appearing aloof and distant.
- they appear to be withdrawn, remote and to have isolated themselves from others.
Challenges of Thought, Imagination and Behavior
Trying to make sense of the world means that we have to predict what might happen next or cope with new situations using our past experience. We must also be able to understand how other people think and feel. People with autism have great difficulty in doing these things as they have great problems with imagination. Instead they often rely on routines, or focus on special interests, to make sense of their world, which can become elevated to the status of rituals that have to be followed down to the smallest detail. Therefore the behavior of students with autism may share certain characteristics:
- a dislike for variety and therefore a resistance to change.
- a tendency to be rigid and obsessive.
- a liking for repetitive patterns.
Tips for Teaching Students with Autism
- Complete tasks in order
- Always keep your language simple and concrete
- Use as few words as possible
- Teach specific social rules, such as turn-taking and social distance
- Give fewer choices
- Reword your sentence or clarify information if you experience a blank stare (ask the student to explain the directions back to you)
- Avoid using sarcasm...if you do use sarcasm, explain it!
- Avoid using idioms, like "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse." The student may think you plan on eating a horse.
- Give very clear concrete choices (not open-ended), ie. "What do you want to do now?"
- Use short sentences
- Set a Daily Routine
- Teach what "finished" means
- Provide warnings of change in routine or a switch in activity
- Use the student's name when giving instructions
- Use various means of presentation, including hands-on, visual and peer modeling
- Minor changes may affect behavior
- Don't take rude or aggressive behavior personally
- Avoid overstimulation
- Link work to a student's interests
- Use computer-based learning for reading
- Protect students from bullying during free time
- Allow students to avoid certain activities if they are overstimulating