Having a child with autism in the classroom can be a real challenge unless you know how to provide the right support. Whether it’s helping them maintain a routine, managing their sensory overload, or engaging them in learning that adapts to their condition, all of your support efforts will benefit them in a meaningful way. Aissa Hamada wanted to share with us her best advice on how to best support autistic children in the classroom.
Establish a fixed and predictable routine
The world is often a confusing place and a source of great anxiety for children with autism. That’s why they find great comfort in a stable and predictable routine. Fortunately, the structured framework of school is a great help in achieving this, however, a way must be found to help them learn what their daily routine is all about.
Creating a visual calendar is an effective and widely used method of achieving this goal. This involves placing simple pictures and words in chronological order on a calendar to describe the children’s day’s activities. Having this visual support gives the child a sense of security, while at the same time serving as a reference point for teachers.
Organize the learning environment.
Many children with autism experience what is called sensory hyper-sensitivity. This can cause intense reactions to various external stimuli. So a simple and useful step you can take is to make the classroom environment less crowded for them.
Because every child with autism is different, you will need to know what their individual needs are. Then, do what you can to remove or reduce the stimuli in their environment that cause them anxiety.
If, for example, you find that they become very disturbed by the sound of the siren, you can allow them to put on noise-cancelling headphones five minutes before the siren goes off. Be sure to plan this action in their routine.
Make transitions smoother.
Because an autistic child’s routine is crucial to his or her comfort, transitions from one activity to another can be incredibly awkward for them. Changes are often unavoidable and even necessary at school, but you can relieve the anxiety involved by preparing the child with autism for them beforehand.
If, for example, you plan to change classrooms during the week, bring the child with autism to see her a few days in advance. Give them pictures to look at until the day of the change. Attaching predictability to an unexpected task can help them adjust mentally.
Communicate simply and clearly
Although it varies from person to person, autism can affect a child’s ability to communicate and interpret the meaning of words. That’s why Aissa Hamada advises paying attention to all the words used and the structure of sentences. He suggests avoiding complicating them with metaphors or rhetoric by keeping speech simple and straightforward.