Schools all across the world come into contact with autism. Surprisingly, teachers sometimes do not feel prepared or even responsible for taking in an autistic student to the class. As a teacher, I want to share seven, simple lessons that I’ve picked up along the way to reassure all teachers that working with autism can be a manageable and fulfilling part of the job.
1. No need to fear the word “autism”
In all honesty, I remember feeling anxious when I learned I was to have my first autistic student. I’m sure other new teachers can relate. It is not a fear of the child, but the fear of our lack of knowledge, or a lack of confidence I had around the condition. I didn’t want to do anything that would upset the class, parents, and certainly not the individual student.
The good news, though, is that this fear did not last. Not only did I discover there were experts nearby to give me their support and tips, but I also found an endless amount of online resources and gained some confidence in realising that I was still able to be a competent leader of my classroom. I know how things in my classroom should be run and with these extra supports and my efforts to adapt and help my students adapt, we all were able to welcome this student and ensure the class was still an effective learning environment for all my students.
While being open to learning is necessary, it is also important to remember and reaffirm what you already know deep down. The autistic student is, first and foremost, simply a new student.
2. Every autistic student is completely unique
Along the same line, you quickly realize that an autistic student is more than their autism. Every student has many layers and their own interests or skills. Even their motor or sensory needs are specific to them. You will quickly see the differences between every student!
3. The child is the expert
All doctors and therapists will have different answers for teaching children with autism. There is no universal rule because, again, every autistic student will have his or her own best ways of learning. For this reason, getting to know the individual child is the best way to understand his or her particular needs.
4. Relationships are important
You should expect to connect with as many people as possible and embrace those connections. Interacting with parents and professionals will give you plenty of opportunities to learn and understand the different way autism presents itself, and of course, also how best to be a part of a strong support network around the child. The ability to share stories and voice the “good and bad” of the child’s schooling with people who understand and care about their wellbeing and progress is a wonderful gift.
5. There will be good and bad days
Some days will be better than others. On good days, your student may be feeling more sociable and loose and free. Other days he or she could be more withdrawn or self-conscious. Come to school knowing that today could be better or worse than yesterday, and that is ok!
6. Don’t give up
It takes autistic children a longer amount of time to pick up on things. Being developmentally young, it might take some time before they understand certain classroom rules (such as asking for the bathroom, raising their hand before speaking, etc). Find ways you can make the class fresh and exciting for both this student and your others, but know that these things could take time and it’s best to focus your energy on the process of progress, no matter the time it takes for milestones to be reached.
7. You never know how they will grow
Just like how all autistic students are unique, their differences will continue throughout their lives. The prognosis for autism is never certain; some kids will seem like an entirely new person within a few years of being out of your class.
This is just another reason to not give up… Autistic students have worlds of progress ahead of them. You can feel empowered knowing that teachers play a great part in making the good things in these unique students’ lives happen, today and into the future!