How Does Autism Affect a Child?
How Does Autism Affect a Child?
Because of their disorder, children with autism have certain sensitivities and needs that most other children do not experience. Below are just a few examples of challenges that some students with autism may experience:
Spoken Language and Communication: The fundamental problem in communication lies in the inability to recognize that needs, desires, thoughts, feelings, etc., can be communicated as seen by the fact that there is usually no attempt to use other means of communication (e.g., gestures) in the absence of verbal language. Children with autism may have difficulty with spoken language or recognizing that their thoughts and feelings can be shared or communicated with another. Some will have limited speech, while others may use communication devices, sign language, or written language to communicate. Some children with autism may engage in echolalia repeating a phrase they just heard without understanding the meaning or the desired response. Echolalia may also be a way for the student to express frustration, ask for help, or communicate that he or she is not enjoying the activity at hand. The display of echolalia can be immediate or delayed
Need for Sameness and Difficulty With Transitions: Many children with autism like things to stay the same and have a need for structure in their lives that far exceeds that of typically developing students.
Leaving home to attend school, for example, is one of the earliest and most challenging transitions the child with autism will experience. A similar challenge recurs at vacation time, the end of the school year, and at the next back to school time. Transitions from one activity to the next may also be challenging for children with autism. Within school, the changes from classroom to other settings,the library, gym, playground, assembly, or special classes,all pose potential challenges for some children with autism. They may get very upset at the slightest change, such as when someone else occupies their seat or when a field trip makes them miss a daily class.
Sensory Sensitivities: Generally, many children with autism have a more heightened sensitivity to sensory inputs than typical students. These differences in vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and other sensations can affect the students ability to concentrate. For example, fluorescent classroom lights may bother a child with autism so much that he or she cannot complete an assignment. Children with autism may also cover their ears or hum to filter out distracting classroom noises. Naturally, an unexpected fire drill, a noise loud enough to bother the ears of typically developing students, may greatly alarm and/or cause pain in a child with autism. While you may not be able to alleviate the sensitivities, you need to be aware of them and strive to help the child learn how to handle these everyday experiences if he or she is to function in life. This is an area where collaboration with the parents and the school team can be very helpful.
Generally speaking, the educational goals for elementary school-age children with autism will include developing cognitive and academic skills, supporting communication and language development, and encouraging appropriate social behaviour. As the child grows older, supplementary skills will be added to the childs lesson plans as they become developmentally appropriate. For instance, self-help skills and vocational training are important abilities students with autism should learn as they enter middle and high school.
Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) is an educational approach that is often used successfully for the education of children with autism. ABA is based on the premise that behaviours are learned and can, therefore, be shaped through the systematic application of Behavioural principles. Teaching new skills by breaking them down into small parts and providing multiple opportunities to learn or practice the skills. Corrective feedback is provided, and correct behaviours or responses are reinforced. The reinforcement systems set up by teachers of children with autism are highly personalized. The rewards may be very concrete and involve things that interest them, such as tokens or time to play with a favourite toy. These tangible rewards should always include the delivery of praise, smiles, or other positive social gestures.
Children with autism may not learn what the appropriate behaviour is for different situations as easily and quickly as their typical developing peers. Teaching must be a concrete and clear way for children with autism to learn behaviours they will need in the classroom and later in life. It is important to stress that, early in the childs program, he or she should be taught how to observe and imitate the behaviour of others, besides that of the instructor.
This type of learning experience, observation learning, will prepare him or her for learning outside the controlled learning environment, where more natural learning opportunities occur.
As a teacher working with a student with autism, you will find it helpful to use positive reinforcement techniques to promote the childs progress toward communication, academic, and social goals. You will be an important part of a comprehensive team supporting the student with autism both at home and in the school. In addition to the childs parents and you, this team will include special and general education teachers, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, educational aides, school psychologists, and social workers. Also, other people may be working with students outside of School therapists to work on problem behaviours, speech/language therapists to address communication difficulties, and psychiatrists or neurologists to manage medications and medical problems. Families of students with autism could also be participating in therapy to support the child, as well as engaging to reinforce skills at home. The education and treatment of a child with autism has many facets.
It is important to have frequent communication within the in-school team about progress and struggles the student is having. The team should also regularly consult the family for their perspectives on classroom issues, and the outside therapists and medical professionals concerning their areas of expertise. The perspective and thoughts of these additional professionals and family members should serve as a great help in brainstorming ideas for adaptations and accommodations for the student with autism.