One major challenge for students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is making sense of the lesson format and routine. A slight variation from the “normal routine” can present a challenge for both the teacher and the student. Teachers often vary from the daily routine to present mini-lessons in order to connect prior knowledge. Students on the spectrum need concrete and specific structures and carefully planned lessons. One strategy that can be utilized would be to highlight the most important concepts of the lesson. Students tend to become overwhelmed and frustrated with too much material. Key concepts can be discussed and highlighted to pinpoint the most valuable information.
Graphic and visual organizers can effectively depict relationships for key ideas. Students benefit most from having a graphic organizer or a map already filled out for them. Due to deficits of fine-motor skills, often observed within the ASD population, it can become difficult to write large amounts of material. The student would highly benefit from access to a graphic organizer that already depicts key components (already filled in). This will call on their strong abilities to visualize information and successfully complete the task given.
TpT Resources For Graphic Organizers:
Students diagnosed on the spectrum can become frustrated with complex and multiple-step assignments. If a task involves multiple components, it should be broken down into clear manageable parts. The teacher should discuss the expectations of the assignment beforehand and state exactly what the assignment should entail (especially the length of the assignment).
TpT Resources For Visual and Behavioral Supports:
Students may find it challenging to pay attention to classroom instruction, especially when the content is not related to their particular area of interest. This is a typical characteristic of many students on the spectrum and is often a source of frustration for their teachers. Often students on the spectrum exhibit high levels of intelligence, and this can be misinterpreted as intentional defiance. When the area of interest has been lost, often an assignment will not be completed simply due to loss of interest. According, to current research, it is often best to minimize adult interactions during the times that the student is off task. Instead, it has been found that effective strategies minimize teacher verbal prompts to stay on task. Setting up alternative “cueing” systems for bringing the student back to the task can be challenging, but planning ahead can help avoid unnecessary power struggles that further increase time away from the task.
Some students are unable to efficiently process auditory input and may miss verbal cues or withdraw during verbal instruction. According to current research, many of these students benefit from auditory focus cues such as ringing a bell, rhythmic clapping, music, and language presented in a song. These strategies are used to gain student’s attention before the instruction is delivered when transitioning from one activity to another, and during listening activities.
According to Marks, et al. (2003) classroom activities rarely follow a sequence whereby a task is fully completed before moving on to the next activity. Often one activity will need to be completed at a later date. For the student on the spectrum, this can be highly confusing and disconcerting, because their characteristic rigid thinking may make it difficult to put away something that is not complete to the level that they feel is appropriate. Providing the student with a visual and concrete structure will help ease this type of transition. One example of this would be to provide specific and concrete beginning and endpoints, even with activities that may continue over several days or class periods. The teacher could make colored plastic clips with the days of the week written on them. When recess starts, or when it is time to move on to the next activity, place one of the plastic clips that say “Monday” on it at the point where the student stopped. Or a simple activities schedule can be made and placed on the student’s desk with a box to “check off” when activity is completed.
Whole-class instruction can be particularly challenging for students with ASD, due to the high amounts of auditory information and potential disinterest in the content. According to Marks, et al. (2003), Creative strategies that increase the student’s interest, as well as those that increase accountability for attending, are key to increasing the student’s attention during whole-class instruction. An example of this would be to embed additional activities within the lesson to increase the student’s interest and motivation for listening to the class lecture. The teacher can develop a list of words that might be said during a lecture. Then the teacher can give the student a marker and a list of those words. Every time a word from the list is spoken during the lecture the student can highlight the word they hear. This information can then be graphed. This will provide the student with an alternative and potentially interesting reason for listening to the teacher. Also, extraneous distractions can be minimized by seating the student up front and position the student where there will be the least amount of visual distractions.
Learning strategies, such as mnemonic devices provide systematic and concrete steps that are highly beneficial for students with ASD. Students can easily remember these strategies because the steps are linked by the acronym that serves as the mnemonic. Teachers can help students use these strategies for many tasks, such as reading for content, when deciphering vocabulary words, or when taking a test. These types of strategies appeal to the way many students with ASD learn. The teacher can make rhythms or sayings to help the student remember a fact or idea. One way to implement this would be to use the expression “Every good boy does fine” which represents the E-G-B-D-F notes on a musical scale. Another mnemonic would be “Please excuse my dear aunt Sally” which represents the order of operations in math (parenthesis, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction).
By accepting an alternate mode for completing an assignment, the teacher can ensure success for a student who would otherwise feel overwhelmed. Students with ASD can become overwhelmed with certain assignments, thus the teacher can think about an alternative assignment that can demonstrate what he or she has learned. By breaking down the assignment or giving an alternative assignment the student can be successful and still be held to a standard that the other students are held to. The teacher needs to be clear and specify expectations such as the length of the assignment. An example of this could be to reduce the requirements for the writing assignment by having the student write a list of adjectives or vocabulary words they have learned as opposed to a lengthy writing paper or even videotaping the assignment. Another option would be to allow the student to use a keyboarding device to take notes or complete an assignment (Alpha-Smart, or laptop). By giving options the student will find it easier to participate.