How To Create A Better School Experience For Children With Autism
For children with autism, school can be a challenging place. Many schools are not equipped to offer all the academic, behavioral, and other services and support your child needs.
In the wrong school, your child may feel bored, excluded, or frustrated. A better school experience includes engaging and beneficial services and supports that equip your child to reach his or her full potential in the classroom and beyond.
Read on to learn more about the features that create a better school experience for children with autism.
Every child with autism is unique and deserves more than a cookie-cutter school experience.
A better school environment provides a personalized and individualized education that uses your child’s strengths, interests, and needs to guide his or her academic, behavioral, emotional, and social goals.
Also, teachers follow a customized IEP and offer activities that support your child’s individual growth and success.
Small Class Sizes
Large class size limits the attention your child receives from the teacher and other staff. A low student to teacher ratio is achieved through small class sizes. Often, a specialized school for autism can offer this feature that can enhance your child’s education.
Many children with autism prefer routine and structure. A comfortable, nurturing, and educational school environment includes straightforward rules, picture cues, verbal prompts, and uncluttered spaces.
While there may be occasional surprises, a better school environment seeks to provide as much consistency, routine, and structure as possible to create a comfortable and relaxing environment that promotes learning.
Evidence-Based Teaching Strategies
Rigid or standardized teaching strategies may not help your child learn at school.
Evidence-based teaching strategies rely on data to measure effectiveness. Educators, behavior specialists, and other staff collect, monitor, and evaluate data regularly and will adjust their teaching strategies, methods, and resources as needed to ensure your child receives an effective and applicable education.
Various Curriculum Tools
Autism is a spectrum, and your child deserves a responsive school curriculum that addresses his or her specific capabilities and needs. A better school environment uses a variety of curriculum tools to ensure your child receives a meaningful education.
Some tools that your child with autism may benefit from include:
- The Eden Curriculum
- VB-MAPP (Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Protocol)
- Picture Exchange System
- Virginia Department of Education: Models of Best Practice in the Education of Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Children with autism may use aggression, self-injury, or other maladaptive behaviors to communicate or manage emotions. However, the school staff can implement a data-based behavior plan that teaches your child to replace challenging behaviors with functional and adaptive living skills.
This plan starts with a functional behavior assessment that identifies the causes, types, and frequency of your child’s behaviors. The school’s behavior support team and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst then create a customized plan that maximizes your child’s strengths and utilizes positive reinforcement, errorless teaching procedures, prompts and cues, non-contingent breaks, access to preferred items, and other tools.
Regular data collection, planning sessions, and assessment meetings ensure the plan remains effective and equips your child to behave appropriately in all settings.
Social interactions can confuse children with autism who often struggle to make and sustain conversations or show compassion. Social training and guided interactions with peers and adults provide your child with opportunities to learn, practice, and integrate social skills.
Sensory, social, or academic overload may cause a child with autism to feel frustrated, stressed, and agitated.
A school environment that understands children with autism will offer frequent breaks, walks in the hallway, or a quiet, supervised, and safe space for reflection. Here, your child can relax, unwind, and process, then return to the classroom or activity ready to engage and learn.
Integrated Communication and Speech Tools
Whether your child is verbal, nonverbal, or somewhere in between, he or she may need help to communicate at school and in other environments.
Speech therapy and various communication tools, such as sign language, a Picture Exchange System (PES), and/or assistive technology, can help your child express his or her words, thoughts, emotions, and needs. These same tools may also decrease problem behaviors, increase social interactions, and allow your child to understand teachers and staff.
Look for a school that offers speech therapy in the classroom and uses integrated communication and speech tools in every academic, social, and leisure activity. These supportive tools equip your child to reach his or her full potential.
Multidisciplinary Team Input
Your child’s teacher will provide invaluable insight into your child’s needs and progress.
However, a multidisciplinary approach includes input from all the professionals who are invested in your child’s success. The adults at the school have autism training and work together as a team to create a learning environment that nurtures and challenges your child.
In addition to learning skills that promote school success, your child must practice academic, behavioral, and social skills outside the classroom.
Skills transference can occur through appealing, interesting, and engaging instructional, social, and leisure activities. Multiple opportunities to practice learned skills in the classroom, on field trips, and during community outings also embed skills and support your child.
Success as an adult depends in part on your child’s ability to live, work, and play independently.
In addition to academic training, your child with autism could receive transition services. These services teach your child communication, social, adaptive, and self-management skills. Transition services may even include partnerships with community, education, and professional organizations where students can receive job training, complete internships, and hone skills.
With transition services, your child can pursue post-secondary education or join the workforce and realize a productive and fulfilling future.
High-Quality, Personalized Education For Children With Autism
Your child with autism deserves the best possible education. While a traditional school may not provide the setting that nurtures and equips your child for success, a better school environment does exist.
These features are provided by the Sarah Dooley Center for Autism and help your child achieve his or her full potential.