Many people see teaching autistic children as a huge challenge that requires special skills, attention and resources.
The truth is, teaching any child is a challenge. Autistic kids just need a slightly different approach.
By focusing on their strengths and improving their weak areas, an autistic child can learn as well as any child.
Here are some teaching tips for parents and teachers to keep in mind.
Understand a Child’s Strengths and Play to Them
Autistic kids tend to be particularly adept at specific things like drawing, numbers or computer programming.
Understand what a child’s strengths lie and then help them to get better in those areas.
Not only will the child become more self-confident, you are also giving them a chance to develop a successful career.
Engage them more in activities that they are good at whether it is painting, drawing, solving math problems or organising things.
As they get better and more confident in the areas they love, they will be more willing to work with you in other areas where they are weak.
Determine a Child’s Learning Style
Many people mistakenly describe all autistic children as ‘visual learners’. That is not always the case.
One study found that autistic children respond to visual learning aids much the same way as non-autistic children.
Like you would with any other child, learn their specific learning style. Are they auditory learners (learn best by listening and talking) or visual learners (learn best reading and looking at pictures)?
Some kids are also hands-on or kinesthetic learners. This is where they learn by doing stuff rather than watching or listening.
You may need to use all three teaching styles in the beginning until you determine which one works best for the child.
Once you understand their learning style, focus more on it when teaching them.
To be clear, I’m not saying that you should only use one method. All children can benefit from visual aids as well as spoken teaching and hands-on learning.
Just make sure you focus more on a child’s best method of learning.
Create A Structured and Predictable Environment
Autistic kids feel calmer and more comfortable in a well-structured environment. A predictable routine grounds them and prevents flare-ups.
The first thing you should create is a schedule and not just for learning but also play. Make sure they know what they need to do, for how long and what follows.
Work on Communication
Autistic kids don’t often express themselves the same way as non-autistic children. Many use non-verbal methods, making traditional communication challenging.
It’s important that you figure out how to communicate with a child before you go on. This makes all other interactions productive.
Depending on the child, you may need to use a mixture of pictures, written instructions as well as spoken communication.
If the child is non-verbal, incorporate gestures and sign language into your communication.
Avoid a Sensory Overload
This is especially important when introducing new information. New sights, sounds and smells can easily overwhelm an autistic child.
Take it slow and keep observing them for signs of sensory overload.
Watch out for specific sensory triggers such as a flickering light, the smell of perfume or a buzzing sound.
Include Social Interactions
A crucial part of development for autistic kids is learning how to interact with other people.
Your teaching should include opportunities for them to interact with other learners as well as teachers.
Doing this in a controlled environment allows you to teach them how to interact with others even when they are out and about.
Teach them how to confidently talk to other people, how to read facial expressions and how to express their own emotions and idea.
Use Creative Teaching Methods
Even when you think you have a child’s preferred learning style locked down, it’s not always straightforward.
You sometimes need to go beyond traditional learning styles to keep them engaged.
Think up creative methods that align with a child’s interest. For instance if they love music, use songs to teach them a concept like friendship or numbers. If they love games, play a board game aimed at autistic children.
If they are obsessed with painting, use that to teach them.
Occasionally switching to non-traditional methods will keep the child interested and improve their learning.