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Teaching Strategies for Autism Spectrum Disorder Students


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) students, formerly called Asperger’s, are often the most challenging for teachers.  ASD students commonly have above average intellect and are high functioning.  It can be difficult at first, to tell the child even has a disability.  These children typically lack in social skills and can be regimented with their routine.  They have trouble with carrying on a two-way conversation and can become fixated on a topic that interests only them.  They desire friendships; however, they usually struggle interacting with others.  When they attempt to interact, it might be during inappropriate times.  For example, during the middle of class, they may blurt out something they find funny but no one else does.  This can cause a disruption to the teacher’s class and to other students.  These students, while being extremely smart, typically struggle with Executive Functioning skills.  They lack organization and struggle with following directions.  Many ASD students also have sensory issues.  Things like noise, lighting, and music can cause them extreme anxiety.

The Organization for Autism Research recommends the Six-Step Plan to successfully teach and foster an inclusive learning environment for the ASD student.

Step 1: Educate yourself and learn about the ASD disorder.

Operate on ASD (Asperger’s) time:  Expect the ASD student will need twice as much time to complete an assignment and they will complete half of what is required.

  • Manage the Environment:  Changes in the environment can cause an ASD student extreme anxiety.
  • Create a Balanced Agenda:  Monitor and structure the agenda as needed.  Create a visual schedule for the student.
  • Share the Agenda:  ASD kids have a difficult time determining essential from non-essential information.  Go over the agenda with them and let them know what information is essential.
  • Simplify Language:  ASD students have a hard time reading between the lines.  Abstract things like sarcasm are difficult for them to understand. Make expectations clear-cut.
  • Manage Change:  If there is going to be a change in the daily schedule, discuss in advance with an ASD student.
  • Provide Reassurance:  Frequently monitor the student’s progress and provide reassurance to let them know they are on the right track.
  • Be Generous with Praise:  Compliment your student frequently on their work. Be specific with your words so that your student knows why you are providing praise.

Step 2: Reach out to parents.  Parents know their children better than anyone and are a good resource to help determine the best way to work with the student.

Step 3: Prepare the Classroom.  Organize the classroom to eliminate anything that could cause sensitivity to the ASD student.

Step 4: Educate Peers and Promote Social Goals.  Try and rotate different groups of students to determine which children work best the ASD student.   This will help create a “circle of friends,” or peer buddies for the student with ASD and help foster friendships.

Step 5: Collaborate on the Educational Program Development. If the student has an IEP or Individualized Educational Plan, you should read it and learn about the history of the child.  Learn about the student’s educational and behavior goals and work to meet those goals.

Step 6: Manage Behavioral Challenges.  School can be extremely stressful for the ASD student and occasionally they may have behavioral problems or meltdowns.  Clear expectations need to be given to the student.  Typically when the ASD student acts out, it is due to a lack of coping skills.  The best way to work with an ASD student is with the use of appropriate academic, environmental, social, and sensory supports, as well as modification to environment and expectations.  ASD students respond to better positive reinforcement, than negative reinforcement.

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