“If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” - Dr. Stephen Shore.
In the UK, schooling and education are fundamental parts of British society and your success in school can go a long way to dictating your career prospects. Children, therefore, need to be educated at school and their teacher needs to know how to teach them and interact with them.
A teacher needs to be aware of how to interact with students on the spectrum. A lot of children on the spectrum struggle with traditional schooling as it isn’t designed with them in mind. Tutors and teachers need to know how to react, behave, and provide the child with their right to be educated.
Children with autism struggle socially and often lack the social skills and awareness of nonverbal emotional cues to effectively hold a conversation with their peers. However, with the right social skills training, awareness, and classroom environment, teachers can help students with autism spectrum disorder to learn the subjects on the national curriculum, develop interpersonal skills, and spend their childhood learning just like any other child.
There are a number of strategies that can be used to help children with autism to better understand emotions, as they have difficulties processing feelings, social communication, exhibiting empathy, making friends, and coping in certain social situations.
In this article, we're going to have a look at how you can teach children, teens, and adults with autism spectrum disorder.
Recognising Autistic Children and Teaching Them
We tend to think of those with autism as introverted and cut off from the rest of the outside world when it comes to social interaction. In fact, the term comes from the Greek term “auto” for “self”. This obviously doesn’t help with the preconception that those on the spectrum are isolated.
Even though this is completely false, those with autism are just protecting themselves from a threatening environment or an environment that they consider threatening.
34% of children on the autism spectrum say that the worst thing about being at school was bullying and 63% of children on the autism spectrum are not in the kind of school their parents believe would best support them. Those on the spectrum are far more common than we think.
Over 700,000 people in the UK are autistic. This means that 2.8 million people in the UK have a relative with autism and schooling and private tutorials should reflect this. We can’t generalise either, especially as teachers.
A student with autism isn’t a problem as they’re very similar to any other student in the class. They may just require slightly more attention, a personalised approach and regular monitoring, and a teaching approach that uses direct and clear communication methods.
An autistic child is, after all, no more or less intelligent than any of the other students in the class. While they have troubles with social interaction and communication, they are more than capable in other aspects of education. Whether they struggle with language or learning, the teacher needs to treat each child as an individual and keep an eye out for the non-verbal communication that they may be exhibiting.
How to Behave with Autistic Students
An autistic child or student needs to be thought of in the same way as any other student. Each student needs to be dealt with in an appropriate way and it’s up to the teacher to work out how to deal with them. They shouldn’t be thought of as a problem to work around.
In fact, combining a skill set in order to achieve results is one of the most rewarding things about being a teacher. Some children may develop language skills later on, be hyperactive, or isolated, and a single teacher isn’t always capable of dealing with this. They need to, therefore, seek advice and help on how to teach certain children or private students.
They also need to be sensitive to the students, especially if the autistic student is part of a bigger group of students. Autistic students can be met with prejudice and other children may make fun of them or say nasty things to them, especially very young children who aren't aware of the condition.
Let’s not forget how cruel children can be to one another sometimes. It’s therefore important that the teacher be ready for this kind of behaviour and create a classroom environment that doesn't allow for this kind of behaviour.
Dyslexic students also tend to come under such unwanted scrutiny: how should you work with them?
They need to remain vigilant and make sure they focus on the child’s effort, their progress, how they work, and how they learn. This is a job that needs to be tackled on all fronts and the teacher should use every tool at their disposal to get the most out of every student. Fortunately for you, there are plenty of resources available to teachers nowadays!
Teaching is a full-time vocation, especially when it comes to teaching autistic students. In some instances, the teacher will need to be patient with the student so that they can concentrate on helping them reach their full potential. How they teach will help them achieve this. They need to regularly communicate with the student and listen to them.
As a teacher, you're not just there to teach students your subject, you're also there to turn children into functioning members of society with problem-solving abilities who can overcome any difficulty, regardless of any disabilities they may have.
You also need to be teaching social skills as students need to be constantly improving their listening skills, communication skills, and learning how to respond to different problems. These are all things that those with autism can find rather difficult, too.
Think About the Future When Teaching Autistic Students
An autistic student (or any child, for that matter) probably won't often think about their future, but it’s probably something that concerns their friends and families an awful lot. As we all know, schooling can make us who we are or decide what we’re going to become. It’s where we make lifelong friends, get qualifications, learn to compete, and learn the concepts of hierarchy, authority, and respect.
An autistic child will also do all of the above. However, they’ll do it in a different way. Their teacher needs to keep this in mind and treat the student just like they would any other student. That said, they do need to find the right way to communicate with the student and express things in a clear way that they’ll understand.
A student's future, whatever it may be, can be decided by the education they receive at school. Thus, they need to learn just like any other student and treated thus, be it in a PE class or a chemistry lab. Of course, and especially if you moonlight as a tutor, you need to be aware that the child is autistic, but you need to be aware that they are a student first, and autistic second.
Students with autism can be educated without any problems as they’re not any less intelligent than any other student, which you need to keep in mind. That’s why the teacher needs to know how to adapt and change their teaching approaches to suit the student and ensure that they have a bright future.
Fighting Autism Stereotypes as a Teacher
As you probably know, autism is neither contagious nor deadly and it’s just a behavioural condition that can affect learning. However, that’s no reason to marginalise autistic students. The teacher’s role is to ensure that an autistic student functions just like any other student.
In fact, isolating a student can have a negative effect on the student. The teacher needs to support the student and be an advocate for autistic students. Whether an adult or a child, no student should ever be marginalised, especially at school. A child’s development can be negatively affected by the image they have of themselves and their teacher.
The teacher, therefore, needs to help their student disprove all the common stereotypes and misconceptions of those with autism. While quite a challenge, a teacher’s job has always been to help students reach their potential, no matter who they are or what learning disability they may have!
The same is true for other learning disabilities like dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia, and also for struggling students or those with behavioural problems and special educational needs: you need a guide to teaching students with any of these learning disabilities!