Children With Autism in the Classroom

Imagine your child is healthy and active little boy about two years old. But then you become concerned because your child doesn’t seem to be doing what other children his age are doing. He doesn’t talk much but he will repeat words that he hears and will say them over and over again. But he does not communicate with you very well. Maybe your child spends a lot of time playing by himself, focusing himself on just a few favorite toys. Could be cars or it could be dinosaurs anything that fascinates him. Then you become even more concerned as he starts to throw tantrum over the smallest thing or if his normal routine has been changed in the smallest way. It may often seem that your child don’t even care if you are there and this can become stressful for any parent or family member to deal with.

So finally with some advice from a family doctor you take your child in to see an Early Intervention specialist. Your child is then evaluated and diagnosed with Autism. This is what many families face. Finding out their child has autism. It is a painful thing to learn about your child because you love him and want him to have normal life. But by getting an early diagnosis you can get your child early treatment and they will have the best chance to grow and develop. The road ahead will be long but you will know that you are not alone and you are getting your child the help he needs. Autism is a developmental disability that significantly affects a student’s verbal and nonverbal communication, social interaction, and educational performance. (Turnbull 302). In the paragraphs below I will address five characteristics, needs and accommodations of a child with autism in school.

First of all I would like to address five characteristics of a child with autism. Each individual with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is unique and may demonstrate markedly different behaviors and skills. But there are some common characteristics in children with ASD. First there is speech. Students with autism have a broad range of language abilities, ranging from no verbal communication to quite complex communication (Myles et al., 2003; National Research Council, 2001). (Turnbull 302) Speech is likely to develop much more slowly than is the norm. Speech may remain absent, or appear in the small child and vanish by the age of four. Speech may include peculiar patterns or intonations. Just like the little boy I once had in preschool. Before starting preschool his mother said that when he was two he had a very large vocabulary.

He would talk and communicate with people and it was like all that had vanished overnight. Another characteristic of a child with autism is the social interaction. Individuals with autism do not understand that their own beliefs, desires, and intentions may differ from those of others (Baron-Cohen, 2001; Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Lawson, Griffin, & Hill, 2002). (Turnbull 303) What is often the most noticeable is the failure to form social bonds. A child who has ASD may not follow the parents or other children around the house – or may cling to them. He may not go to others for comfort when hurt. An autistic child often avoids eye contact, resists being picked up, and does not seem to “tune in” to the world around him/her. A third characteristic of a child with ASD is playtime.

A child who has ASD will most likely not initiate play with other children that are around them. He or she may prefer to be left alone. They also will not imitate other children or adult’s action like other children may do. Another characteristic of children with ASD is sensory differences. Children and youth with autism and Asperger syndrome frequently experience sensory and movement disorders related to taste/smell, tactile sensitivity, visual/auditory sensitivity, and energy levels (O’Riordan & Passetti, 2006; Rogers, Hepburn, & Wehner, 2003).(Turnbull 306) A child with ASD may not react the same way to a variety of stimuli. He may or may not respond to cold or heat and if he did respond he would over-respond.

Children with ASD may also show hypersensitivity to light, noises, touch, smells and taste. Finally the last characteristic of a child with autism is a need for routine. A child with ASD may throw a tantrum that last for hours because the seating was change in the family room. Or they may engage in behavior such as flapping a hand, lining toys or drawing the same picture to do in the place of what he is unable to do at the time. Children with ASD are all different but they all have needs to be addressed.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some form of autism affects 2 – 6 of every 1,000 children, with the most recent statistic being 1 in 110. (CDC. 2009) With this many children being affected by autism there is definitely needs to be addressed in school. The first need of an autistic child is the need for routine. As this is one of the common characteristics of a child with ASD it can also be seen as a need. The autistic child needs to live in and see a set routine that they can count on every day.

In the absence of this routine, an autistic child may respond with a bad behavior. Children with a set routine will know what to expect and they will be able to function better and go through the day without to many interruptions. Another need to be addressed is to look for the best education suit the child’s need. There are many programs that are out there that are available to help children out. Preschool intervention programs offer special courses for autistic children who are not old enough to go to school yet.

These are early intervention programs that get the child ready to the point that they are ready to enter into school when it is time. Experts in the field of autism agree that as soon as a child is diagnosed, he or she should immediately be enrolled in an early intervention preschool program (Green, Brennan & Fein, 2002; Hurth, et al., 1999; National Research Council, 2001) Another need is that the child with autism needs to be accepted. Rather than focusing on how your autistic child is different from other children practice acceptance. Enjoy your kid’s special quirks, celebrate small successes, and stop comparing your child to others. Feeling unconditionally loved and accepted will help your child more than anything else. If your child with ASD learns a new word you need to celebrate it. Autistic children are special but they also need to feel as though they have been accepted by their family and friends.

A fourth need for an autistic child is that need others to be aware of their sensory issues. As a parent you need to know what it is that sets of the over stimulation to the child. If these things are know it is easier to identify them and avoid a meltdown. Children with ASD have many issues dealing with sensory and when they are over stimulated it causes chaos with the child. A final need for a child with autism in school is an open line of communication between the home and the school. An autistic child needs all the adults in their life working together to provide a safe and learning environment for the child.

The parents need to know what is going on at school and the teachers need to know what is going on at home. Many children with ASD can function quite well in school if the parents and the teachers are well prepared to help the child out. With a few slight modifications in the classroom it can be easily accommodated for a child with ASD. The first accommodation could be to develop and use visuals for learning. One great visual to use would be an individual visual schedule. This could be made by poster boards and index card. Each task of the day is written on an index card and laminated. Or the task could be illustrated. As each task for the day has been completed they move the task for the chart to an envelope next to the chart to indicate that it has been finished. Another accommodation that could take place in the classroom would be to give the student a choice and control. But they are not really in control. You are providing the choices for them.

They feel as though they have control because they are getting to choose between one thing and another. For example you could ask the child if they would like to color with crayons or marker. Then they are getting to choose what they are coloring with but you are limiting their possibility. A third accommodation would be to adapt the physical environment to exclude distractions whether they are auditory or visual. Children with ASD are sensitive to loud sound or bright lite. If they are over stimulated they will become frustrated and act out often ending in tantrums. They should be seated in the classroom within close proximity to materials and instructions. There needs to be boundaries set for them. They need to know what is expected of them and what appropriate behavior is. Another good accommodation for the student with ASD would be to provide peer support or a buddy system throughout the day.

This could be a child in the classroom that is on the older end of all his peers. Maybe one that seems a little more mature can help out. They would assist the autistic child with social interaction. As I stated earlier one of the common characteristic is social interaction and the child may not interact with others. The peer could also provide support for the child with autism. This could easily be incorporated into the class room. It does not call for anything extra to be done.

It is simply just using resources you already have on hand. Finally the last accommodation would be to provide activities to teach and support social and emotional skills. These would be the areas that a child with ASD would struggle the most. Social skill development should be a priority for the student the first day they enter into school whether they start out in preschool or they start in kindergarten. Social skills not only help students with ASD but it helps all students in all aspects of their daily life. From childhood to adulthood they should be taught in the school environment. These could be simple activities such as playing games with each other or working on a project together. These things could promote social interaction and social skills.

Early diagnosis and intervention are very important for children with an ASD. Special education programs for students with ASD focus on improving communication, social, academic, behavioral, and daily living skills. Behavioral problems are a big issue with students with ASD. It interferes with learning and will require assistance of someone who is knowledgeable in the field of autism. This person will help develop a plan that is to be carried out at home and school. Classrooms should be structured so that it is consistent for the student with ASD to learn better. Interaction with other peers is important because they can provide a model of what is important and appropriate behavior.