It is no surprise that when planning classes for students with ASD that art, music, and physical education are always listed. In a way it is wonderful that these classes are chosen, but on the other hand, they can often be challenging for both the teacher and the student on the spectrum. Teachers may feel ill prepared to have a student on the autism spectrum in their class and for the students themselves, even just the environments for each class can be challenging. So are there some simple initial steps that can be taken to make it better for both parties? While teaching and learning is not usually a simple matter when autism is part of the equation, there are some basics that can alleviate some of the initial challenges for everyone.
When a teacher realizes that a student with an autism spectrum disorder will be on the class list, instead of worrying, begin to learn about autism. Routine is part of any school class, including art, music and physical education. Of the three disciplines, PE may be the class with easy routines, while music and art may be more open-ended. Therefore, providing students with some additional assistance would be prudent. Providing a visual agenda either written on the board or on a picture schedule that is also reviewed at the beginning of class daily can alleviate anxiety or confusion for the student. Warning students with ASD of any changes to the routine prior to them occurring is also a wise strategy. Even if you think the student is doing well and can get along without the visual agenda, keep providing it for them. Many times challenges do occur when this support is removed.
Many children with autism are fixated on specific topics. Simply allowing them to adjust the subject matter of the project to reflect their passion will help them invest in your class.
Many children with autism are fixated on specific topics. Simply allowing them to adjust the subject matter of the project to reflect their passion will help them invest in your class. Many children with autism are fixated on specific topics. Simply allowing them to adjust the subject matter of the project to reflect their passion will help them invest in your class. Because the child with autism’s mind is processing all of the stimulus from the outside world while listening to the teacher, they can struggle to remember a long series of directions. Giving your students shorter, more specific directions will help them. They likely won’t understand your idioms or sarcasm, but they will be able to process a short, specific to-do list. Students with autism can also be overwhelmed and lost when given open-ended questions or tasks. Limiting them to a few choices makes it easier to process the concept and, therefore, to be successful.
For more info on our staff, click here.
Like all students, students with autism will fall on a wide spectrum of artistic ability. Some students won’t possess the fine motor skills necessary to make typical grade level work. On the other hand, some students with autism will be the most talented students you’ll ever teach. It’s important to understand where your students’ skills are and meet them there.
Changes in class or routine can be challenging for the student with autism. Having a set routine and allowing time for students to adjust to the new room, classmates, and subject matter is important for their success. You may be blessed, like I am, to have incredible paraprofessionals that help students settle in. However, if you’re flying solo, you could try something as simple as having a coloring sheet or blank free drawing paper at their seats every time they come to class.
Stimming is a series of repetitive behaviors that students with autism may display. This can include flapping, rocking, tapping, and more. Accept it. They don’t do it to be rude or disrespectful, rather, these behaviors help students with autism deal with the stimulation that is overwhelming. Understand that students with autism may behave differently than other students. I once worked with a student who needed to touch my hair while listening to the demonstration. While I wouldn’t be comfortable if most students did this, I knew that it was what he needed to be able to focus. He could handle being surrounded with other people and focus on the lesson if he could touch a section of my hair.