UKEdMag: Strategies To Support Children With Autism Or ASD by @sonukhosla15

“If a child cannot learn in the way we teach … we must teach in a way the child can learn.” Ignacio Estrada.

Let me begin with sharing a piece of conversation I had while working with a differently-abled child.

Colleague: Ms. whenever you find the time please meet me.
Me: Sure.
Child: Ms. I can really help you.
Amazed I asked: Go ahead.
Child: I can help you find the time. There it is! (Pointing to the clock on the wall).

The look in the child’s eyes can however, not be explained in words.
We can look at this behaviour as ‘intentional’ or ‘being funny’ or ‘disrespectful’ and the list is endless, but we need to wait and understand what is Autism or ASD before we jump to conclusions. All it requires is a little sensitivity, acceptance, understanding, willingness and a change of mindset.

This article originally appeared in Issue 53 of the UKEdMagazine. You can freely read the magazine by clicking here

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioural challenges. People with ASDs handle information in their brain differently compared to other people, sometimes with limited verbal language use, experiencing intense self-stimulatory behaviours such as hand-flapping, under-reaction to pain and over-reaction to sounds. Often they have very good gross motor skills,yet have weaknesses in fine motor skills. These symptoms will vary widely from person to person as no two individuals are alike.

Behaviours which might be observed as simple naughtiness or non-compliance may in fact have a range of other meanings for a child with ASD. The observed ‘naughty’ or ‘non-compliant’ behaviour may in fact be the child’s only way of indicating the need for help or attention, or the need to escape from stressful situations. This may also be a way of obtaining desired objects, of demonstrating his/her lack of understanding, of protesting against unwanted events, or of gaining stimulation. However, the need to deal with them is also different. The suggestions below are strategies that I have used from time to time to help children reach their potential in classroom or at home. Behaviour management is a very important component and needs as much intervention as academic studies or classroom management.

Behaviour Management

  • Provide a very clear structure and a set of daily routine (including for play)
  • Use clear and unambiguous language. Avoiding humour/irony, or phrases like ‘my feet are killing me’ or ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’, which will cause bewilderment.
  • Make clear (including with a firm ‘No’) which behaviours are unacceptable.
  • Avoid sentences like ‘Would you like to do this?’ or ‘Why did you do that?’ It is always more beneficial to give choices to choose from.
  • Address the child individually at all times or using alerting cues. For example: ‘Everyone and xxx (child’s name) please put your notebooks away.’
  • Visual timetables are a great resource for helping the children to be organised.
  • Recognise that some change in manner or behaviour may reflect anxiety or stress like talking loudly, pacing the room up and down, flapping hands, collar biting. This may be triggered by a (minor) change to routine. It is very important to identify the triggers and address them.
  • Mindfulness or breathing exercises are also great way to calm a child down.

Sensory inputs like playing with sensory ball, squeezy ball, trampoline jumping, rocking are all behaviours that help a child calm down.

Many times, teachers and parents often come to me in frustration and despair with phrases like:

“He / She is just doing nothing”
“I have tried everything. Nothing is working.“
“I have other children to take care of, I can’t just concentrate on one child.”
“I am not trained in dealing with this.”
“ He/ She just listens to you.”
It is very common and completely understandable to come across these frustrations however, you also hear:
“ This child has taught me patience.” “I am glad I got an opportunity to manage him, my perspective in life changed.”
“I won’t give up on this child.”

Classroom situation with ASD child can be overwhelming. However, with simple, doable strategies it can lead to big differences with small changes. The golden rule is not to do just once or twice, but consistently for things to fall in place.

  • Academic Management
  • Give prompts ( key words) to do the writing piece. Will have 2-3 drafts before the final one.
  • Font Size.
  • Highlighting.
  • Edit wheel - punctuation, neat work, recheck.
  • Give him/her choices.
  • Small assignments.
  • Positive comments like. He/She may need constant boost in his/her self esteem.
  • Movement breaks.
  • Preparing by talking of any impending change of routine, or switch of activity or special events like literacy week. Send a message home so that parents can talk and send the child as to what is expected in school on that special day.
  • Signal that someone has to answer, use his name
  • Stand close and prompt him to focus again.
  • Walk around the classroom
  • Good eye contact if possible, but do not insist.
  • Simple concrete firm instructions.
  • Reward attention, timely accomplishments.
  • Preferential seating
  • Gain his/her attention before giving directions. Use alerting cues like “This is important”. Ask him to make a note in the student planner.
  • Give one direction at a time. Quietly repeat directions to him after they have been given to the rest of the class.
  • Using varied materials.
  • Task analysis - to ensure tasks are manageable and within the child’s attention span.
  • Always checking understanding and repeating/rephrasing instructions as necessary.
  • Practising newly acquired skills in different settings in order to foster generalisation.
  • Removal or minimising of distracting material, or providing access to an individual work area, when a task requiring concentration is set.

Undoubtedly this is easier said than done, however, it is not impossible. It is a learning process while dealing with children with Autism or ASD. There is no fixed strategy that will work.

We have all been trying to fit the child in the curriculum rather than making the curriculum suit the child’s needs. Each child brings with them different abilities, challenges and self-esteem issues. I firmly believe that we can’t undo nature, but definitely ‘nurture’ is something we all can work towards and make a positive impact on the child and learning in a big way. All it requires is sensitivity, patience, self reflection, introspection and proactive approach with lots of positivity and understanding.

Whatever, you do may seem insignificant, but it is most important that you do it.

Ms. Sonu Khosla @sonukhosla15 a developmental psychologist with extensive experience of working with children and adults with SEN. Worked as Head of SEN at Pathways School in Noida, India, she has also conducted training modules and workshops for companies and educational organisations in the Netherlands. Worked on research projects in association with Johns Hopkins Institute, Baltimore, USA and is Council of International schools accreditor.

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