Welcome Back Teachers!
As the start of the school year approaches, it is important to spend a little extra time thinking about your student with an autism spectrum disorder that will be in your classroom. The key to having a successful year is learning about your student’s specific needs and putting the appropriate supports in place to address those needs.
Here are several activities that you can do that help you start off on the right path.
Learning about the characteristics of autism spectrum disorders. Learning about the characteristics of your student will help you understand how your student thinks and learns. Behaviors that you may encounter over the school year are directly related to the special characteristics of individuals on the spectrum. For example, a student with an autism spectrum disorder may make rude comments, but in reality, it is their lack of theory of mind that causes them to not understand that the comments they are making may hurt other people’s feelings.
Get a hold of the student’s IEP. Before school starts, you should know the goals your student is working on and the accommodations and modifications they receive. The IEP is what should guide and direct the type of services and programming for your student on the autism spectrum.
Learn about specific strategies or interventions that are being used with your new student. For some students, this may mean learning how to communicate with your student using the Picture Exchange Communication System. For other students, it may mean learning about specific curriculum or type of intervention that is currently being used.
Incorporate visuals into your classroom. Most students on the autism spectrum are visual learners. Posting the daily schedule on the board and then having an individualized schedule for your student will help decrease any anxiety about what is happening next in the classroom. For older students, visuals may mean a copy of the notes on the board or written out instructions of what your students are expected to do.
Talk with the parents of your incoming student about their child’s strengths and needs. Find out about your student’s strengths inside and outside of school, along with specific needs that you may need to know about. Learning about what your student likes and dislikes will help you create ideas that you can use for reinforcement. Knowing about other activities that your student enjoys can help build rapport at the beginning of school.
Evaluate your classroom or environment. After learning about the needs of your incoming student, take a look at your classroom or the environment that the student will be in most of the day. If your student has some sensory or attention issues, then try to figure out a good place in your classroom that the student will not be bothered by the sound of the pencil sharpener or the activity outside the window or doorway. If your student has sensory issues being in crowded area, find a desk or a table on the end of a row or on the side for the student to sit at. Reduce the amount of posters on the wall, objects hanging from the ceiling, and materials around the room if your student is easily distracted.
Think about ways to train peers and staff on specific needs that your student on the autism spectrum may have. Sharing information about the student with their classmates and other staff in the building is important to build understanding and acceptance. Make sure that you get permission from the parents before you talk to classmates and other staff in the building.
Write a letter to the student welcoming him to your classroom and/or school building. Anxiety is common in students on the autism spectrum. Knowing that there are teachers that will support and help during the school day helps reduce anxiety and stress level in students.
Invite the student to tour your classroom and the school building before school starts. The best time to do this is when there are not other kids present, so that the student can get used to the building without worrying about interacting with others. For middle or high school students, this is important so that the student can practice their locker combination and find all of their classes without anxiety or pressure. They may need to practice walking through their daily schedule multiple times before school starts.
Hopefully, after doing some of these activities to prepare yourself, having a student with an autism spectrum disorder in your classroom will be a fun and rewarding experience for yourself, your classroom and your school.
Authored by Melissa Trautman, Ms. Ed., Regional Coordinator with the Nebraska Autism Spectrum Disorders Network