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Individuals with autism have a variety of communication, social, and behavioral challenges that can make teaching challenging, particularly when the student is in a mixed-ability setting. Generally speaking, children with autism are generally uninterested in social interactions. Depending upon the level of autism, the individual may or may not interact with a stranger.

High functioning autistic students may possess communication skills similar to those who are diagnosed with Asperger's and have different instructional needs.

This strategy list will help you to accommodate the special needs that a students with autism will bring to your teaching time.

Behavioral Issues

  • Do not insist on or force eye contact.
  • Do not initiate physical contact, such as a friendly pat on the back.
  • Do not make hasty judgments about body language. Students with autism will often go to extremes to avoid social contact. Their nonverbal body language should be viewed in that light.
  • Allow the person to engage in repetitive body movements, such as finger flapping, as it may become more pronounced as the person is under stress.
  • Some students with autism find comfort or stress relief in evenly applied body pressure, such as being wrapped in a weighted blanket.
  • Transitions: Students with autism have an extreme need to maintain regular routines. Interruptions to routines need to be planned and the individual needs time to adjust to the idea.


Communication Issues

  • Some students with autism use a picture book, a personal sign language system, or a portable speech generating device to communicate basic thoughts.
  • Present one idea or set of focused questions at a time.
  • Most students with autism will not start a conversation or work to keep a conversation going. This is neither an act of defiance or lack of cooperation.
  • Use concrete examples and direct questions.
  • Use visual aids to make sure the person is clearly articulating an idea.
  • Staying focused in your conversations. Students with autism don't do well with predicting where a conversation is headed or what their conversation partner might be thinking. Sometimes their comments may seem off-track.
  • Monotone: The lack of emotion in their voice does not necessarily mean the individual is not enjoying an activity.
  • Interpreting Tone of Voice: Students with autism are not generally able to interpret another person's tone of voice and recognize the emotion attached to it.
  • Echoing: Some individuals will repeat phrases, scenes, or conversations that they just heard or occurred in the past. Why students with autism do this is specific to each person and does not always mean the person understands the nuances or meaning of the words they speak.
  • Pronoun Reversals: The student may have a habit of making pronoun reversals, such as saying, "Can you go now?" instead of saying "Can I go now?"
  • Extreme honesty and bluntness in communication is common in students with autism with verbal communication skills. It's not an attempt to be rude or disrespectful, even if it is disruptful.


Social Issues

  • Affirm the individual's social acceptance and likeability.


Environment Issues

  • Minimize visual and noise distractions.
  • Shorter class and activities times in large group settings are less stressful.


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March 29, 2020


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