All students who experience autism are unique and have their own strengths and needs. Here are 5 common supports for students with autism in the mainstream classroom:
1. Read, understand and implement the student’s accommodations page of their IEP.
- As a classroom teacher you will be given a copy of the accommodations page of the IEP. To review what an IEP is please read What is an IEP?. You are responsible for knowing and implementing any and all accommodations on this page in your classroom. Written directions, an outline of the schedule, and short breaks are examples of accommodations. If for some reason you were not given the accommodations page, make sure to reach out to the student’s case manager (special education teacher) to get a copy of this before school starts.
2. Work closely with specialists to provide support for the student
- Something I love about working in special education is that you always have a team of people working to support the student. You are never alone! Reach out to any and all of the specialists who are on your student’s team. The student’s IEP will outline which specialist he or she has on their IEP team. Examples of specialist include Speech Language Pathologists (SLP), Occupational Therapists (OT) and Physical Therapists (PT).
3. Collaborate with parents
- The parent knows the child more than anyone else. Parents, more than anyone else know the child’s history and vision for the future. Create a collaborative and open relationship with the student’s parents from the start of the school year. Learn as much as you can about the child. Find out what motivates the child, what home life is like, and most importantly, what the parent’s goals are for their child this school year. As soon as you can, develop this relationship and work together for the common interest of this student. Consider inviting the student with autism to come visit the classroom before school starts to reduce anxiety. On the first day of school they will be more comfortable. When you meet with the parents, you can ask if they have any specific techniques or strategies that work well for the child at home.
4. Use sensory strategies
- Students with autism can be hypertensive to sensory stimulation. Any and all of their senses (visual, auditory, olfactory, touch or sense of taste) can be heightened. Spend some time thinking about your classroom and what could possibly be overstimulating. If the classroom get’s loud for example, find a quiet place for the student to retreat or look into noise canceling head phones for the student to use. Opened doors and windows, brightly colored walls and bright overhead lights are all examples of how a classroom can be overstimulating for students with autism. The student with autism may benefit from having a fidget toy to hold while working. Pre-teach rules and expectations for the fidget before you use this strategy. There are many other sensory strategies that an OT can help with if you feel as if your student could benefit from a closer look at their sensory needs.
5. Use visual supports
- Students with autism thrive best on a predictable schedule and are typically visual learners. Create visual group and individual schedules with pictures or drawings to provide support in the classroom. Some students will benefit from visual support to remind of positive or pro-social behaviors. This picture is an example of a group of classroom rules that can be shown visually to support the student with autism.
What strategies and supports have you found to be helpful for students with autism in the mainstream classroom? Please leave a comment with your thoughts.