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School is back in session! This year, more than any other recent school year will come with additional challenges that are beyond the normal challenges that most teachers and parents face.
In addition to learning about each student and creating lesson plans that will work for all of the various abilities and disabilities, there is the behavioral aspect to be concerned with as well.
Class is in Session Again!
Both typical and atypical students alike have been at home for well over a year. They have become accustomed to their environment and their daily routine in the comfort of their own homes. They have not been surrounded by a sea of students swirling around them in the hallways, nor have they been shoulder-to-shoulder in a classroom with other students.
For students with autism, chances are that the online environment was very satisfactory for them. Most students who have autism prefer to work alone in familiar surroundings with predictable daily routines. Being at home during the last school year accommodated those preferences and afforded them the additional opportunity to take little side ventures to the video games or other preferred activities that they enjoy without the worry or frustration of being asked to refocus on work in the classroom.
For these reasons, transitioning back to school will take some mental and physical adjustments that could be a bit interfering in the classroom at the onset of the school year.
There are some ways to help students with autism to readjust to the school environment. The goal is to slowly transition from one task or environment to another, gather information about the student, and modify assignments or make accommodations in the classroom that will keep students with autism engaged in their schoolwork and feeling safe and happy to be in their school environment.
Tips For Teachers: Support Your Students with ASD in the Classroom While Minimizing Classroom Disruption
If you are a full-time teacher and your class is inclusive of students with high-functioning autism, you will want to be prepared to address any potential problems that might cause interruptions that cause your other students to lose classroom instruction time. The goal is to keep students with autism engaged in their schoolwork and feeling safe and happy to be in their school environment.
Having a good plan of action for dealing with potential meltdowns or frustrations for your students with autism will save class time and reduce the potential for future frustrations and meltdowns.
These are important because many students with high-functioning autism also struggle to maintain focus on their tasks due to accompanying attention deficit disorders. By allowing a student with autism to take frequent breaks, the student can get up and get a drink of water, go to the bathroom, move around and regroup. Many times this helps a student with autism to release any pent-up anxiety or energy that they might be feeling from sitting in one spot for too long.
This is a great tool. A pressure pass is simply a slip of paper that a student can pick up and use to leave the task in front of him/her, take a short walk or engage in a calming activity. Teaching your student with autism to use this pass as a replacement for explosive behavior or verbal outbursts, eliminates the need for the student to act out to get a break by being removed for negative behavior. Instead, a student with autism can learn to use communication properly to express his/her need to take a minute or two away from an aversive task.
When you take the time to learn about your students and make the effort to understand the things that they like and don’t like, you equip yourself as a teacher with vital information that could save countless outbursts in the classroom. For example, if you know that math worksheets cause disruptive behavior because it is a non-preferred task, you will be ready to stand vigilant of any signs of frustration that may slowly rise and cause an outburst. In fact, knowing that math worksheets are aversive, you could start the student out with a five-minute timer and instruct your student to stand up and take a break with the timer sounds. Set another timer for his/her break and direct him/her back to the math worksheet when the break is over. Over a period of time, the goal would be to increase the time that the student can tolerate working on his/her math and ultimately fade out the need for timers to keep the student on task.
A space like this for your students with autism who may have sensory issues can be very beneficial. Students who have sensory issues can feel a tremendous amount of anxiety over too much visual (reading), auditory (lecturing), or kinesthetic stimulation (touch on the shoulder or close proximity to a classmate). If there is no outlet for a student who has a build-up of anxiety due to sensory overload, the end result could be difficult for all parties involved- the teacher, students, and the student with autism. If there is a “safe” place to retreat to it is possible to completely avoid the meltdowns that can accompany high levels of anxiety. It is worth the investment of time to create such a space in your classroom.
These are not just nice things to do for your students who have autism – they are also very necessary. Accommodations can include sitting a student with autism in close proximity to the teacher for assistance, finding a “buddy” who will walk with the student to lunch or to the bathroom, providing headphones to reduce the noise level and distractions surrounding the student, or even allowing the freedom to get up and walk around when feeling agitated. If you do make any accommodations, it is a good idea to sit with the student and a parent/guardian to discuss what the accommodations are. Clearly spell them out to the student so that they understand the expectations.
This can be to curriculum, quizzes, tests and general expectations are also very important. When a teacher has 20 students in a room and one or two of those students has special educational needs, it is vital that the teacher is ready to assess the student with autism (and any other student with special educational needs) to find out what they are capable of and readjust the amount of work, the type of work, and behavioral expectations to match the level of the student. A teacher cannot expect 50 problems on a math page if the student reaches peak frustration at 5 problems. If a student can’t speak, the teacher should provide some type of communication tool for the student such as a whiteboard or a tablet so that the student can answer in a way that they are capable of.
For Parents: How You Can Help Your Teacher to Support Your child with Autism
The best thing that a parent can do for their child with autism in a school setting is to be available for communication. You know every nuance of your child’s behaviors, likes and dislikes, and every other detail that your child’s teacher might need to successfully teach and manage your child’s autism in the classroom.
Depending on your child’s age and behaviors, there are some situations where parents might prefer NOT to share information prior to the start of the new year. This may be due to previous teacher biases or preferential treatment of the student with autism rather than allowing a teacher to get to know the child and evaluate each student independently.
The main goal as a parent is to provide a channel of communication from home to school that allows for educational and emotional support for the child by helping your child’s teacher to understand each event as it arises. The only time it might be inappropriate to say too much to a teacher before school starts are when you have a high-functioning student that has expressed a desire for nondisclosure about their autism in order to feel included with the mainstream population.
Simply being available for communication with the teacher and school staff is enough to help your child when the need arises. For example, if a student with autism is having emotional difficulties at home it would be helpful to communicate that to your child’s teacher who might be observing more meltdowns than usual. Working together, by communicating, can help to support the student with more consistent responses to the meltdowns and possibly slow the meltdowns or stop them completely as the student begins to feel safe or attended to.
If having outside resources is helpful, Circle Care Services in New Jersey is ready to help your child and your family acclimate to their school setting. We have a staff of certified BCBAs that are trained to provide your child with the best support. We provide ABA services that help to teach social and behavioral skills to students with autism that prepare them for their academic futures and their futures after the school years are over. Call us with any questions you may have about social and behavioral skills that help students with autism in school.