Tips and Advice for Teachers!

Autism is a complex disorder that affects an individual's ability to interact with the world around them. Commonly referred to as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the severity of autism varies greatly. 

Signs of autism include: poor language development, unusual or repetitive behaviours and a diminished interest in other people. The developmental ares that are most affected are communication, social interaction and behaviour.

Whilst the cause of autism is not yet completely understood, the areas most likely affected are thought to have genetic and/or neurological causes. Whilst a person with autism may experience difficulties with some areas of their development, other skills may develop normally.

Classroom Management for an autistic child needs to include both traditional classroom management techniques such as structure, routine, rules, lesson plans and non-traditional techniques such as visual aids. It is important to remember that there are no set guidelines for managing an autistic child in the classroom, as like any other child, each child is different depending on their symptoms and their behavioural characteristics displayed in the classroom.

Students with autism may often demonstrate challenging behaviour, like any other student, however they do not always respond to the usual methods of praise or discipline. 

Below are some tips for not only creating an effective classroom environment for a child with autism, but also how to manage challenging behaviour!

Autistic children thrive in a structured environment.
It is important to establish a routine straight away, and try to keep it consistent.
An example of a routine for a child with autism could be:
- Line up
- Enter classroom
- Say 'Hello' to the teacher
- Say 'Hello' to your friend/s
- Unpack your schoolbag
- Put their reading book on their table
- Sit on the floor

The most strongly recommended approach for teaching children with autism is to use visual aids. Autistic children learn faster and much easier with visuals, they can gain much more from visual cues and lessons, rather than from oral or written instructions - as these forms of instructions can require too much concentration, and children will simply tune out. Visual cues also allow children to use them for as long as they need to process the information. Visuals are easy to incorporate into the classroom, you can use them with almost anything! Visuals can even be used when you're going to be outside the classroom, such as an excursion.

Visual aids can be used to:
- Organise the student's activities
- Provide directions or instructions
- Assist the student in understanding the organisation of the classroom (labelling)
- Support appropriate behaviour (posted rules)

There should be a written behaviour plan for the child's targeted behaviours, as well as a plan for dealing with inappropriate behaviour. This plan should be developed with the significant people in the student's life, including parents, principal, classroom teachers and specialist teachers. The plan should include identifying the problem behaviour, identifying an alternative behaviour, and developing strategies for changing the behaviour. 

It is a known fact that children love being rewarded - and children with autism are no different! Positive reinforcement is a great way to increase desired behaviour. However, it is important to give students precise information about what it is they are doing well, to ensue they don't mistakenly connect something else they are doing with the praise (such as leaning back on their chair)

This schedule should be incorporated into the overall classroom schedule, including tasks to keep the student's on track and prevent boredom, as well as alternating activities to help reduce anxiety and possibly prevent inappropriate behaviours. The schedule, as mentioned above, should be in a visual form and located near the table of the student with autism so it is easily accessible and they know what to expect.

In many instances, it can be beneficial for an autistic child to have a quiet, calm area where they are able to escape to and relax, even for a brief period of 5-10 minutes, as it can be quite calming and as a result make their behaviour more manageable and decrease the likelihood of inappropriate behaviour occurring. Remember that it doesn't have to be a quiet, calm area that can provide relaxation for the student, it could be something like playing with a favourite toy or object, listening to music, or even looking out the window. It really depends on each child, as what may be calming for one child may cause extreme anxiety for another!

Allowing autistic children to interact and work one-one-one with peers can allow them to learn appropriate social behaviour and provide them with situation-specfic expectations of behaviour. This can be not only in the classroom, but for when in the playground, at assembly, or after-school activities.

The list of advice and approaches for managing a classroom with an autistic child is endless, and there is no single proven method for teaching and managing students with autism, however I hope this has given you an insight into how to better manage your classroom and make it both an enjoyable and educational place for your students!

Useful Websites

Emma Rosewarne - 600171807
EEC381 Classroom and Behaviour Management
Assignment 3: Classroom Management for Autistic Children