The first thing I would suggest to any teacher working with an autistic child is to read “Ten Things Your Student with Autism Wishes You Knew” by Ellen Notbohm. This book has information that can help make mainstreaming easier. I’ll list the suggestions and give you an idea of what Notbohm has in mind. These I have taken from the website: http://www.chabad.org/blogs/blog_cdo/aid/1116875/jewish/Ten-Things-Your-Student-with-Autism-Wishes-You-Knew.htm
1. “Behavior is communication. All behavior occurs for a reason. It tells you, even when my words can't, how I perceive what is happening around me.” If a student is acting out they are over stimulated and need help. They can’t communicate those needs well. It may take to work to find out why something happened, and how to stop it from reoccurring.
2. “Never assume anything. Without factual backup, an assumption is only a guess. I may not know or understand the rules. I may have heard the instructions but not understood them.” Keep an open mind – they are smart. They just process information differently. Most are extremely intelligent and have problems with expressing thoughts. This is an issue that I forget often when dealing with Konner. I know that he is smart, which makes it harder for me to believe he doesn’t understand what I’m asking. It’s not that he doesn’t understand the idea behind the question, just the question in general. Let me explain: if I say, “Konner can you pick up the living room?” Konner may be wondering, "How can I pick up a room?" “The couch is too heavy for me to lift.” “Why would you want me to lift the couch?” All of these thoughts are rolling through his mind and slowing down the thought process. However, if I say, “Konner please put your toys in your room,” it would be a more literal and general statement. Remember, children on the spectrum are often very literal.
Also, our speech therapist Joe’l Farrar made some great suggestions for asking questions. I would like to share these with you, and thank her for them.
· Always give a few seconds before repeating (approximately 15 seconds). This gives them time to process the question.
· When you do ask again, you may want to change the proximity. An example would be to get closer to him when asking.
· When repeating, change tone of voice, softer and lower works best.
· Avoid asking “wh” questions (who, what, when, where, why, how) when the child is stressed. Reword to make a statement then ask questions without “wh”. Instead of asking “where are you going”, state, “I see you are leaving. Is it time to leave?”
· When (the child) is extremely stressed reduce the amount of speech. Use the least amount of words possible.
3. “Look for sensory issues first. A lot of my resistant behaviors come from sensory discomfort.” Konner, like many on the spectrum, tends to pace when he is over stimulated. He will rock, repeat things constantly, cover his ears, chew on pencils, and ultimately scream. These are just a few things that serve as warning signs. When we see these it’s best if we try to head them off before he goes into a meltdown. It’s a good idea to keep a record of what caused these things to prevent future meltdowns (this is where the communication notebook comes in handy).
4. “Provide me a break to allow for self-regulation before I need it.” This is where the warning signs come in. These can be anything that helps the child calm down. Some children like pressure. This is why Konner has a weighted vest (a blanket will work too). Stress balls, sand paper, fur, silk, bean bags, a quiet corner, earplugs or headphones, or just a walk can do wonders in helping a child calm down and preventing a disruption.
5. “Tell me what you want me to do in the positive rather than the imperative.” Children, especially on the spectrum, can feel frustration. This is a personal issue I have as well. I get frustrated easily with Konner and have to tell myself to calm down (if my wife doesn’t tell me first) or I have to back off for a minute and find a way to change my tone. If I get upset and yell it is counter-productive, and usually results in a meltdown.
6. “Keep your expectations reasonable.” Should I really expect my child to sit in a noisy gymnasium while an assembly is being held? How important is this assembly? It may be better in the long run to take him/her out and hangout in the classroom instead.
7.” Help me transition between activities.” There are many things that can help in this situation. A visual schedule is awesome! Konner has had one in every classroom, and it has helped. All you need is to take pictures of the stations or rooms he is expected to go to. Then put them together in a book. You can also use a poster with pictures or computer generated pictures. Whatever works best for you and the child will be fine. When it comes close to time to change you just show the child the next place to go and they begin to process that information. It’s best if you do this about five minutes before time to transition. This is where a timer can help. Set it to ring about five minutes before time to change. Visual timers are better.
8. “Don't make a bad situation worse.” This one is pretty self-explanatory and goes along with number five.
9. “Criticize gently.” Again, self-explanatory, but just be nice and praise more than critique.
10. “Offer real choices – and only real choices.” I’ve had problems with Konner on this in the past.
- Here is an example that they have used: Whenever possible, offer a choice within a 'have-to'. Rather than saying: "Write your name and the date on the top of the page," say: "Would you like to write your name first, or would you like to write the date first?" or "Which would you like to write first, letters or numbers?" Follow by showing me: "See how Jason is writing his name on his paper?"
Sometimes, instead of asking it’s best if you just tell. Instead of, “Do you want a bath?” Say, “It’s bath time.”
Remember communication notebooks are great. If your child doesn’t have one, or you’re a teacher and the student doesn’t have one, I suggest one.
There is an Elvis Costello song called “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding.” I feel that if you show a little love and understanding you can have peace in the classroom. Remember, modification in the classroom, while inconvenient to some is necessary. I promise it will make your year much easier in the long run. As always, every child is different. You just have to try different things and find out what works best for your child or student. It’s all about trial and error.