Working With Autistic Children

Teaching Students With Autism

Working with Autistic Children

Deciding a child is autistic may not be easy despite the impressive list of associated symptoms.

That’s because children develop at different rates and in different ways, so some symptoms go unnoticed at first.

Working with autistic children can provide new discoveries daily.

For example, an autistic infant or toddler may avoid eye contact and is called “shy”.

Or a child refuses to be hugged and parents think the child is simply not the “cuddly” type.

Unfortunately the longer autism is allowed to go untreated the more likely behavioral and learning changes become difficult to initiate. Young autistic children under the age of 3 who enter early intervention programs often have an excellent chance of learning how to improve social interaction and ending unacceptable behaviors.

Children allowed to reach the teen years without intervention can experience behavioral changes but learning skills upgrades are resistant to intervention methods.

Another factor found through working with autistic children that impacts the identification of autism symptoms, is the fact that the condition can fall along a spectrum from mild to severe.

Children with very mild autism are seldom diagnosed before the age of 3. Thousands of children are not diagnosed until they enter school and have difficulty handling the social setting and the instructional material.

In general, the signs of autism often appear when the child is around one or one and a half years old. But there is usually a long delay between the first awareness the child is not acting normally for his or her age until the actual medical diagnosis. That is why it is so important for parents and educators, including even day care teachers, who think they might be working with autistic children, to understand the symptoms and signs of autism.

First Signs

Unless the child is severely autistic the signs the condition exists will not be all that obvious at first. A child with high functioning autism, often called Asperger’s disorder, has good language skills but limited social interaction skills. Until suspected autism children are observed in social environments. They can go undiagnosed for a much longer period of time than a child who is severely autistic and exhibits repetitive behaviors or fails to communicate.

While working with autistic children the first and earliest signs of autism in infants and young children include the following.

• Over or under reacts to sensory stimuli
• Reacts to touch as if it is painful
• Acts as if normal sounds at normal sound levels are painful
• Exhibits little or no interest in surroundings
• Never seems to need human interaction
• Has no interest in toys
• Does not communicate with body language such as pointing, looking from one object to another etc.
• Reacts negatively, and sometimes violently, to any touch
• Has impaired language development
• Has lack of expression on voice when speaking
• Repeats words spoken by others
• Exhibits repetitive behaviors
• Little or no eye contact
• Seems to be deaf due to lack of response to verbal communication

Unfortunately when you say the word “autism” many people assume the child is living in a black void in their own world and is a “head banger”. In extreme cases of autism the child may be difficult to reach with words, objects and eventually training, but even severely autistic children have been able to develop rudimentary language skills.

But many autistic children are not severely impaired and can learn to read, perform in social settings, end inappropriate behaviors and even succeed in school among peers.

In fact, many children with Asperger’s Syndrome who get early intervention can lose the diagnosis by the time they are eight years old!

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In The Classroom

Not all teachers are trained to handle autism in the classroom. Many children with Asperger’s Syndrome are mainstreamed into the regular classes.

This autism spectrum disorder is also called high functioning autism. It’s called “high functioning” because the child does not experience cognitive delays or delays in language development.

The condition instead impairs the child’s ability to socially interact. The child with Asperger’s Syndrome also exhibits repetitive behavior patterns.

Children with high functioning autism as opposed to other ASD conditions are often highly intelligent and have normal IQs. Since their language and cognitive skills are well developed, these children frequently are included in the mainstream classrooms.

This means the teacher must be prepared to provide special education instruction within the standard classroom.

Children with Asperger’s Syndrome have problems socially interacting and communicating nonverbally with teachers and other students.

Because the child understands at some point of development that he or she is “different” it is important for teachers to also be supportive to prevent emotional problems such as depression from developing.

For children with other ASD conditions, the placement in the mainstream classroom depends on the severity of the condition. Many schools operate special education classes that are separate from the mainstream classes.

Teachers are certified instructors of children with developmental disorders and disabilities and are often working with autistic children.

Teachers in the traditional classrooms don’t usually have the same level of training and must maintain standards for all students in the room, making it difficult to provide the kind of support and instruction autistic children need.

Special Education Resources

One of the resources important for those working with autistic children that should be checked regularly for updates is the US Office of Special Education.

You should also keep up to date on state laws applicable to the school system where your child is enrolled.

Private Schools

There are many private schools in the US that use Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) as the basis for their programs. There are several goals these schools hope to achieve.

• Provide 12 month intervention for autistic children
• Provide need specific educational programs
• Work on educational and social issues related to autism impairments
• Provide targeted intervention strategies
• Provide a safe and supportive environment for autistic children
• Work closely with parents so ABA intervention is continued at home
• Prepare child to enter mainstream educational facility when possible

Private schools such as the Y.A.L.E Schools (YALE) provide trained teachers, one-on-one instruction, advanced ABA treatment methods, and supportive instructional materials. Many public schools simply don’t have adequate financial resources required to properly help autistic children become productive members of society.

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