According to the website autismteachingstrategies.com, “Children on the autism spectrum can find it painfully difficult to tune into the words and meaning of other people. They may hear extraneous sounds in the room. They may be distracted by more interesting things to look at. The person talking may be competing unsuccessfully with the autistic child’s inner thoughts.”
In his YouTube video, Joshua Kranske speaks to the difficulties some people on the spectrum experience with multiple stimuli.
Autism Speaks writes about how eye contact can be distressing for children with autism. Indeed, forcing them to make eye contact can actually prevent them from being able to pay attention. From a cultural standpoint, it is frequently assumed that having one’s eye contact means that you have their attention, and that if one is not looking at you, it can be assumed that you don’t have their attention.
The following excerpt comes from Indiana Resource Center for Autism: “A number of “higher functioning” folks who have autism have described difficulties with making eye contact. One of the more humorous explanations was shared over lunch with a brilliant, well- educated, 45-year-old man who has Asperger’s Syndrome. With a mixture of cynicism, good humor and pleading for understanding, he discussed his difficulty with making eye contact, but even more to the point, with expectations that he “read” and respond to the subtle socioemotional messages conveyed via the eyes. In summarizing his message, he said, “If you insist that I make eye contact with you, when I’m finished I’ll be able to tell you how many millimeters your pupils changed while I looked into your eyes.”
Pat Hensley posted 22 tips for Teaching Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder on Teaching Community.
- Use Task Analysis –very specific, tasks in sequential order.
- Always keep your language simple and concrete. Get your point across in as few words as possible. Typically, it’s far more effective to say “Pens down, close your journal and line up to go outside” than “It looks so nice outside. Let’s do our science lesson now. As soon as you’ve finished your writing, close your books and line up at the door. We’re going to study plants outdoors today”.
- Teach specific social rules/skills, such as turn-taking and social distance.
- Give fewer choices. If a child is asked to pick a color, say red, only give him two to three choices to pick from. The more choices, the more confused an autistic child will become.
- If you ask a question or give an instruction and are greeted with a blank stare, reword your sentence. Asking a student what you just said helps clarify that you’ve been understood.
- Avoid using sarcasm. If a student accidentally knocks all your papers on the floor and you say “Great!” you will be taken literally and this action might be repeated on a regular basis.
- Avoid using idioms. “Put your thinking caps on”, “Open your ears” and “Zipper your lips” will leave a student completely mystified and wondering how to do that.
- Give very clear choices and try not to leave choices open ended. You’re bound to get a better result by asking “Do you want to read or draw?” than by asking “What do you want to do now?”
- Repeat instructions and checking understanding. Using short sentences to ensure clarity of instructions.
- Providing a very clear structure and a set daily routine including time for play).
- Teaching what “finished” means and helping the student to identify when something has finished and something different has started. Take a photo of what you want the finished product to look like and show the student. If you want the room cleaned up, take a picture of how you want it to look some time when it is clean. The students can use this for a reference.
- Providing warning of any impending change of routine, or switch of activity.
- Addressing the pupil individually at all times (for example, the pupil may not realize that an instruction given to the whole class also includes him/her. Calling the pupil’s name and saying “I need you to listen to this as this is something for you to do” can sometimes work; other times the pupil will need to be addressed individually).
- Using various means of presentation – visual, physical guidance, peer modeling, etc.
- Recognizing that some change in manner or behavior may reflect anxiety (which may be triggered by a [minor] change to routine).
- Not taking apparently rude or aggressive behavior personally; and recognizing that the target for the pupil’s anger may be unrelated to the source of that anger.
- Avoid overstimulation. Minimizing/removal of distracters, or providing access to an individual work area or booth, when a task involving concentration is set. Colorful wall displays can be distracting for some pupils, others may find noise very difficult to cope with.
- Seeking to link work to the pupil’s particular interests.
- Exploring word-processing, and computer-based learning for literacy.
- Protecting the pupil from teasing at free times, and providing peers with some awareness of his/her particular needs.
- Allowing the pupil to avoid certain activities (such as sports and games) which s/he may not understand or like; and supporting the pupil in open-ended and group tasks.
- Allowing some access to obsessive behavior as a reward for positive efforts.