The Puzzle of Autism

by PammyMcB

The following is a summary of the article. The full article can be found here.

Section 1 – What Teachers Need to Know

One thing that I feel are very important for a teacher to know about ASD from this section is that ASD includes the “individual’s ability to integrate sensory information and regulate their emotions.” As an educator it is very important to fully understand this. Unlike other children that have learned how to act appropriately in a social context, it is more difficult for a child with an ASD to learn appropriate behavior. Therefore, they may have outbursts in the class, which is often dealt with by the use of punishment. This is not fair to the child. Not only have they had a stressful situation that caused the outburst, but they have also been punished because they are stressed.

I feel that it is extremely important for a teacher to know the symptoms of ASD. These include: “lack of eye contact, lack of joint attention, lack of reciprocal conversation, and typical sensory/motor processing.” As an educator, if you do know these common symptoms of ASD, you may be lead to believe that the child is engaging in some sort of defiant behavior. Children with ASD are often disciplined because they don’t pay attention to the teacher. What may have actually happened is that the child was not making eye contact with the teacher and the teacher assumed he/she was daydreaming. Furthermore if a child is not interested in the subject of conversation, they may actually disengage themselves from the classroom. Also a teacher may also assume that a child is being defiant because they have not answered the teacher’s question. There are several things that a teacher must consider on this: 1. The child may have not understood a question was being asked. 2. The child may have not understood the context of the question being asked. 3. The child has not had enough time to process the answer to the question being asked. 4. The child may simply just not know the answer to the question being asked. In this case the child normally will not say they do not know the answer. Instead, they will rationalize their response as I don’t know the answer; therefore, I will not say anything at all. Finally, because of the poor sensory/motor processing, education is very exhausting and frustrating for children with ASD. The later in the day, the more apt the student is to being disruptive. These children are not bad children though they are often perceived that way since they do not understand appropriate behavior in a social context.

Section 2 – Features and strategies for intervention

As an educator it is very important to understand that the IEP has been put into place for a reason. The child’s previous teachers and parents are very valuable to the IEP process. Though an educator may have dealt with a child with ASD before, the same techniques may not benefit another child with ASD. Therefore, it is very important to understand if the IEP states the child needs a detailed schedule of the classroom routines, visual instructions, a stress free area, etc. for the student, the modification must be provided even if the teacher feels the modification is not warranted for the child’s age. In other words, children with ASD in the middle-high school setting may still need these modifications.

The most valuable tool for a student with ASD is organization. As an educator, the checklist can be very beneficial to: the teacher, the student with ASD and the other students in the classroom. Without the checklist, the teacher may have to take time to explain step-by-step routine instructions for the child with ASD on a daily basis. This can take time away from the material being learned, time away from the other students in the classroom, and be very embarrassing for the child with an ASD. These instructions must be broken down to the simplest terms and phrases such as, put your name on your paper, turn your paper in, sit down in your seat, etc. The teacher can also help the student by giving him sticky notes for their checklist when the routine is changed for the day. Furthermore, color-coding each subject is very beneficial to the student. The student should have folders, notebooks, crayons, markers, pencils, high-lighters all in the same color for each class.

Section 3 – Communication

As an educator, it is very important to know and understand that the communication skills of the child with ASD are not the same as other children. These children may have extensive vocabularies, but may not be able to explain to you what they mean. Many times when speaking to a child with ASD, they may stay on track during a conversation but suddenly add a word, phrase, or term that is way out in left field. Though we may not understand how the child got from point a to point b, they may understand. Therefore, an educator can ask the child to explain why he/she added that word or phrase.

Because a child with ASD has trouble with isolating important terms or information that is important for answering specific questions, the child may not do well on essay or short answer testing. Also, the way a question is worded or the complexity of a question can be very confusing for a child with ASD. To address this problem, it may be necessary for the teacher to break the question down into simpler terms for the child with ASD.

Section 4 – Sensory integration and regulation

In order to help a child with ASD in the classroom, the teacher may have to make accommodations and modifications to address difficulty with writing. If the child’s IEP recommends the use of an Alpha Smart, Neo, or Dana, the teacher must allow the use of the adaptive technology. If the teacher is unfamiliar with the technology, then they should contact their administrator and let them know they need training on the use of the equipment. There are other pieces of adaptive equipment that may be recommended as well such as: pencil grippers, mechanical pencils, markers, graph paper, and keyboards.

An essential modification for children with ASD is the shortened written assignments, and providing teacher prepared notes to the student. The reason that these are very important is that most children with ASD have deficient fine motor skills. Handwriting is a grueling, arduous task for the child. Therefore, their hands tend to cramp and the concentration required for writing is exhausting. If the child stops and refuses to finish the assignment, they are not being lazy or defiant, they are actually mentally tired and may not be able to continue.

Section 5 – Socialization/social skills

A teacher must understand that children with ASD do not understand many visual cues that occur in socialization. The child cannot guess the emotions of the person they are dealing with just by reading faces or body language. Therefore they may seem to act inappropriately in certain social situations. Furthermore, the failure to read and understand visual cues can also lead to the inability for the child to model such visual cues. For example, one way that a child with ASD may react in a stressful situation is they may smile or laugh instead of model uneasiness or embarrassment.

A child with ASD may not understand the conversation at hand. therefore they may gear the conversation toward their own key interest. In order to address this issue, educators may need to redirect the student. For instance, if the teacher is speaking about trains, but the student knows nothing about trains; the child may change the topic of conversation to dinosaurs. The teacher must be gentle in the way she addresses the child. Therefore, they may say “Wow, that is very interesting. However, we are currently speaking about trains. After we are done talking about trains, you can tell me something about dinosaurs.” This alleviates stress from the situation and gives the child a reason to stay on task. However, the teacher must remember to keep his/her end of the bargain, or the result could be an emotional outburst from the child with ASD.

Section 6 – Behavioral issues

Teachers must learn to recognize and understand that children with ASD may exhibit the following behaviors: ritualistic, compulsive, impulsive, stereotypic, aggression and inappropriate social interaction. These behaviors are often stress induced and can be very frustrating for the teacher. However, if he/she realizes the child is not trying to be bad, it will be easier for the teacher to calmly redirect the student.

Though most behaviors must be addressed, the behavior that requires immediate reaction from the teacher is aggression. This is not always exhibited as aggression toward others, but can be exhibited as self-injurious behaviors. The latter is normally the case. Because the child with ASD is considered a threat to himself and others, then the behavior must be immediately addressed. This can be done by the following: removing the stressor, restructure stressors, clearly indicate the specific task at hand, and provide clear and precise directions.

Section 7 – Restricted interests

Because children with ASD have interests that border on obsession, then they should be allowed to explore their interest at some time during the day. The teacher can either tie homework to the child’s interest, or give examples that include the child’s interest. If this is not applicable, then the teacher may have books in the classroom about the child’s interest and allow him/her quiet time during the day where they can read about their interest. This can enhance the child’s learning experience.

Another way to help the child with ASD get into a daily routine would be to allow him the beginning of the day to work on something that deals with his special interest. For instance, teachers can start the class out with 5-10 minutes of independent learning. Some suggestions are to have the child write something they find fascinating about the interest in a daily journal, have the child tell a peer about the interest, or start the class out with reading time. Toward the end of the independent learning period, the child should give a 1-2 minute warning that the class will be moving on to another task.

Section 8 – Future directions/research areas

Because the incidence of ASD is on the rise, the need for future research and funding is needed. research topics include:

characteristics of autism and associated research related to genetic markers and the cause or etiology of the disorder – according to the NIMH autism is carried on the same gene as ADHD and bipolar disorder;

screening protocols for early identification of children with the disorder – the earlier the child is diagnosed with ASD, the better;

identifying effective early intervention strategies – the earlier the child can begin specific therapies to help the child adapt to his/her environment, the more effective the therapies will be;

school and community interventions – the schools and teachers must be educated on how to deal and work with children with ASD; they must also understand how to control and manage the child’s behaviors;

specific treatments – because ASD are spectrum disorders, ASD will manifest in different ways in different individuals with ASD; what works for one child with ASD will not necessarily work on another, this includes medical;

neuroscience – children with ASD will generally have an underdeveloped frontal lobe; furthermore, children with ASD often have seizure disorders;

environmental factors – some families may have multiple family members with ASD while others may have only one case; therefore, it is unsure as to whether ASD is hereditary or not; furthermore, some areas may have more children with ASD per capita than others; therefore, it is unsure as to whether there are environmental factors;

epidemiology – just a few years ago the rate of children with ASD was 1 in 160; it has been recently reported that autism affects 1 in 150 children.