Wednesday, August 29, 2012

5 Teaching Strategies to Implement in your Autism Classroom

Over the next five days, I will post about 5 different, important teaching strategies to help an autism classroom run smoothly.  
1.   Visuals/Minimize Talking
2.  Organization
3.  Flexibility
4.  Schedules
5.  Behavior Management Tools

Today I will start with Visuals/Minimize Talking

One of the key components of an autism diagnosis is that students have qualitative impairments in communication (the ability to talk and understand spoken language).  Using visuals instead of (or in conjunction with) giving directions verbally can be helpful in addressing these deficits.  In my classroom, the visuals we use most often are posted on the wall or on my students' desks.  

 We also have worn lanyards around our necks with a key ring full of the most common visuals we use.  When creating my visuals, I try and focus on what students "should do" not what students "should NOT do".  For instance, instead of saying "no running," I use a visual that says "walk."  Telling students with autism "not to" do something, still doesn't specify the correct behavior they should be engaging in.  I also try to make sure that I have a visual with some sort of praise on it (either a picture of thumbs up or a happy face) to show kids when they were being good.  The visuals we use most often are:

 Obviously we all know it is impossible to use only visuals as a means to communicate with our students.  We also know that our students need to learn how to understand spoken language as well as visuals.  So when you do need to talk to your students, use phrases that are clear, concise, and to the point.  For instance, if you want a student to throw something away for you, you SHOULD NOT say "Hey Johnny, could you go over there and throw this in the garbage for me."  Instead, you SHOULD say something like "garbage" or "throw away."  

You can also help students develop the skills necessary to follow spoken directions by creating programs where you repeatedly practice direction following in a one-on-one setting.  For starters, make sure the student is physically capable of doing the action.  Some good one-step directions to begin with are those you use most often during the day such as "stand up" "sit down" "clap hands" "give me" "throw ball" "touch nose," etc.  Be careful that you aren't giving any cues to the student when working on spoken direction following.  It is so easy to tell a student "touch nose" and start doing the action yourself (I totally catch my self doing this from time to time!).  This is teaching a child to imitate your actions, not to follow your directions.  (It is fine to use this for your first couple session as a prompt…just make sure to fade it out as soon as possible.  A more appropriate prompt might be to help the student physically engage in the direction themselves using physical prompts…but these must also be faded out as soon as possible).   Once your student can consistently follow your one-step spoken directions, you can up the ante to two-step direction.  (I.e. "Touch nose, then jump," "Stand up, then clap hands," etc). 

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