ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) affects about 1 in 68 children in the United States, with more children identified than ever before. Like all children, children with autism need your love and encouragement. Many children with autism may feel isolated due to having been bullied. The love and support of teachers will encourage your students.
Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means that every child with ASD has different skills, challenges, and needs. It affects children of all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups and is about 4 times more likely in boys than girls.
While many teachers are very familiar with ASD, there are a number of teachers who are less experienced. ThinkFives surveyed the Autism Society, the US Department of Health and Human Services, and Autism Speaks to identify the Top 5 understandings on Autism that can inform all teachers.
Every Child with Autism is Unique
Some children with autism are nonverbal and may never be able to speak. Many children with autism are highly intelligent and learn to read and write at an early age. Some children with an autism diagnosis can have an unbelievable gift for math, music, or art. Teachers should know that autism is a spectrum, and each child is distinct and should not be labeled based on his or her place on the bell-shaped curve. A child labeled low functioning today with proper therapy can move up the spectrum.
Every child with autism has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. My strength was memory, and I was able to memorize in one year more than 2,000 Scripture verses. Phonetics was my weakness, and I was unable to spell a word by sounding it out. Teachers must use learning styles that fit the child’s strengths. (A note from guest blogger Ron Sandison)
Children with Autism Experience Difficulty with Verbal Instructions and Social Cues.
Children with autism tend to experience difficulty understanding verbal instructions. Teachers should write their instructions in easy-to-follow steps and also use visual aids in the classroom. Make sure your student understands your instructions.
Children with autism may have difficulty decoding social cues. The inability to interpret nonverbal communication will cause a child to feel awkward in social settings. Teachers should teach students with autism to model their peers on the playground.
Children with autism who lack social skills may make inappropriate and mean comments. Teachers need to be prepared for a child with autism to say hurtful words and not take those comments personally. Teach the child by your own example to say words of praise and gratitude. (Autism Society)
Autism Can Affect the Whole Body.
Children with autism can have other related medical conditions. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects an estimated 30 to 61 percent of children with autism. More than half of children with autism have one or more chronic sleep problems. Anxiety disorders affect an estimated 11 to 40 percent of children and teens on the autism spectrum.
Autism-associated health problems extend across the lifespan – from young children to senior citizens. Depression is another possible challenge and can affect an estimated 7% of children and 26% of adults with autism. Risperidone and aripiprazole are the only FDA-approved medications for autism-associated agitation and irritability. (Autism Speaks)
Autism Challenges Caregivers and Families
Teachers often see the challenges in the way autism impacts the entire family. On average, autism costs an estimated $60,000 a year through childhood, with the bulk of the costs in special services and lost wages related to increased demands on one or both parents. Costs increase with the occurrence of intellectual disability.
Mothers of children with ASD, who tend to serve as the child’s case manager and advocate, are less likely to work outside the home. On average, they work fewer hours per week and earn 56 percent less than mothers of children with no health limitations and 35 percent less than mothers of children with other disabilities or disorders. (Autism Speaks)
Intervention and Support Make a Difference
There is no “cure” for ASD, but there are several interventions that can help children learn important skills that improve everyday life. Early intervention can improve learning, communication, and social skills, as well as underlying brain development. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) and therapies based on its principles are the most researched and commonly used behavioral interventions for autism.
Many children affected by autism also benefit from other interventions such as speech and occupational therapy. Developmental regression, or loss of skills, such as language and social interests, affects around 1 in 5 children who will go on to be diagnosed with autism and typically occurs between ages 1 and 3.
Typically, the earlier children are diagnosed and receive services, the better their outcomes are. Children with ASD can learn and succeed in the classroom and beyond. Like every child, with the help of their families, providers, doctors, specialists, and communities, kids with ASD can thrive. (From US Department of Health and Human Services: Office of Early Childhood Development)
Are there any resources you know that may be informative for teachers?