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To All of the Teachers Out There

Traditional Classroom vs. Autism Spectrum Disorder

Chris with a little kangaroo.

One in 68 children in the United States has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. How many of those students will slip through the cracks? We need to educate our educators. My son has been diagnosed with Asbergers (ASD), conduct/behavior disorder, and severe ADHD. I would like to take a few minutes to discuss how a traditional classroom setting can be extremely challenging for children with ASD. My hopes are not only to educate you in order to further my own son’s education, but I hope that you will use this knowledge to better educate all children.

Basic Daily Challenges:

• Following multi-step directions. “Sit down, take out your book, and read chapter nine.” Can be a confusing statement for kids like Chris.

• Following verbal directions. Children with ASD are visual learners.

• Sitting and listening for long periods of time.

• Group instruction.

• Looking at you while listening to you can sometimes be over-stimulating (using visual and auditory senses at the same time).

• Highly decorated classrooms can be distracting.

• Organizing thoughts. Sometimes children with ASD have a hard time verbalizing thoughts or will get distracted in mid-sentence.

• Other examples of organizational challenges: gathering correct materials for a task, keeping up with belongings, and desk/locker organization.

Classwork/Curriculum Challenges:

• Reading and comprehending material. Children with ASD can not read between the lines or infer from text.

• High functioning ASD children may be adept at decoding or word calling, but may have serious comprehension difficulties.

• Another, more difficult problem to catch, is perseveration or perseverative thinking. Perseveration is an uncontrolled repetition or continuation of a response (e.g. behavior, word, thought, activity, strategy, or emotion) in the absence of an ongoing occasion or rationale for that behavior, thought, or emotion. Perseverative behavior generally interferes with learning and adaptive behaviors with things like effective interaction, on-task behavior, and flexible shifting among topics and activities. It is believed that this behavior is a result of neurological impairment. If you have ever re-read a sentence or paragraph over and over without comprehension, it is likely you have experienced mild perseveration. This is what these children experience with every word or sentence they attempt to comprehend.

• Children with ASD have difficulty understanding that others have different thoughts and ideas. They have difficulty taking into account what other people know, leading to confusion on the part of the listener. Because they do not understand others' perspectives, relating information can cause more confusion by:

1. Providing insufficient background information.

2. Lack of reference.

3. Excluding important information because they already know this information.

4. Giving excessive irrelevant information.

• In math, ASD students typically recognize patterns rather than concepts. Have you heard the saying “Math is the science of patterns?”

• Generally, if an ASD student holds interest, science and history are opportunities for them to shine.

Ways teachers can help:

• A written (visual) checklist can be used to keep him focused and “on task” so that they can complete each step listed in order. This visual tool will allow for independent completion of an entire routine or task.

• Fewer problems per page on worksheets with larger more visual areas to put responses.

• Use strengths, such as presentation, or any other that you may recognize.

• Use compassion; children with high functioning ASD can be mistaken for “regular” children without special needs. It can make every day a struggle, and become discouraging.

• Think outside the box.

• Children with ASD have a completely different perspective of this world. It can be strange, beautiful, complex, ingenious, and seriously frustrating to those who don’t understand that perspective. We have to take initiative and educate ourselves. We have to exercise empathy.

I realize that none of you have the time to recreate your teaching strategy immediately, but if we work together as a team I know we can give my son, and possibly other special needs children, the education they deserve. Do you want to be part of unlocking their full potential? I challenge you to start recreating that strategy today.

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