How to get the best from your autistic students!

There is a universe out there, where teachers stand poised at the front of classrooms waving wands and students respond with glee to every demand. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on your world view) our classrooms are vastly different spaces made up with unique personalities and quirks demanding our understanding and wit. When working with ASC (Autistic Spectrum Condition) learners, some might say, the landscape becomes even more challenging as these learners might be reluctant to engage with topics that aren’t a part of their primary interests. There are of course a range of different strategies that can be used to engage our ASC learners and I’ve placed by top 5 strategies and explanations of how they have worked below.

 

Using Visuals

Ok, I admit it! When I started working in a ASC school, the term visuals filled me with dread. Would I have to find a picture to represent the minutiae of everything I was trying to say? Of course not. It was soon explained that this could simply mean a written checklist that helps students to know what they would be doing and when, within each lesson. As you might be aware, ASC learners appreciate routines and so by providing them with a structure and a clear view of what they needed to do and where the lesson was going, their anxieties reduced and it was possible to get them to plug in to the learning at hand. Therefore, providing a road map for the journey ahead helped to increase students’ desire to engage with their learning.

Group Work

Yes, I know, we are well familiar with the fact that many ASC learners find social interaction difficult. Sometimes, this is because they want to be by themselves as they can find communication with others to be quite stressful and unpredictable. However, I have come to recognise that at heart, all the autistic learners that I have worked with have a deep desire to interact, communicate and make friends. Therefore, by allowing them to work with peers they like and respect or have common interests with, it becomes possible to make them excited about working on a task with a fellow student. Of course, it requires a lot of forethought in regards to groupings but if the grouping is right and the instructions are clear, it is possible to see incredible outcomes.

Tapping into Their Interests

It is true that learners with ASC have highly focused interests, which often translates into a huge body of facts and information that they are ready to share at any opportunity. Cliched as it might sound, many of the learners I have worked with enjoy researching, talking about and creating things that are related to buses and trains. Therefore, in those lessons where I have used the picture of a bus or asked them to create stories linked to these transport, their excitement becomes palpable; tangible even as some begin to stim across the classroom. As a result, tying their interests to their learning can create a positive classroom environment where students feel compelled to be at their best.

Encouraging Mistakes

It is clear that the students I have worked with have a deep desire to do well. However, if a mistake is made, the anxiety and negativity that arises from this often stops students from moving forward in their learning and their work. Therefore, a key aspect of motivation in the ASC classroom is getting students to so motivated to complete a task that they will willingly move past their failures and to try again without tantrums or meltdown. Personally, I addressed this in multiple ways. I announced my mistakes and made it clear how I could correct them. I put posters up in the classrooms. I wrote dodgy paragraphs that they had to help me fix. For some students, I gave them individual behaviour charts that said they would be given rewards like extra time on the computer if they were able to try again after a mistake. Consequently, motivation in the ASC classroom isn’t about just the desire to do well but the desire to keep going after you’ve failed.

Praise

For some reason, praise isn’t very natural for me. It’s something so simple that I often have to remind myself of but praise goes such a long way. So many of our ASC learners often struggle with low self esteem. They reach so easily for the negative because so often and everywhere, they might feel that they don’t fit or belong. Therefore, just by praising what they have done can produce enormous benefits not just in the lesson at hand but in future classes. And of course, praise doesn’t only come from the adults. Give them a chance to plan and deliver presentations and poetry readings. Watch as their performance brings joy and rounds of rapturous applause, you’ll see them light up and know that they are wonderful. And yes, send postcards home, notes in their planners and phone calls homes. You’ll see the pride they feel as they share with their friends or whisper a quiet thank you. So yes, praise is so important to increase a child’s desire to do things. It’s a simple and beautiful strategy that we can never afford to lose.

 

Clearly, these are only a handful of strategies. There are so many other great aids that we can use as teachers to motivate our learners. The beauty is always to realise that each learner is different and they come with different wants and desires. However, by being skilful and intent on learning about each of the students, we can tap into the things that motivate them and in so doing, help them to secure better outcomes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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