Autism is one of the most common developmental disabilities. People with autism, also called autism spectrum disorder(ASD), have differences in the way their brains develop and process information. As a result, they face significant communication, social, and behavior challenges.
Symptoms can be severe and interfere with everyday tasks, or they can be mild and cause only a few problems. Experts call this range of symptoms a "spectrum." Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorders(PDD) are conditions that fall within the autism spectrum.
Signs of autism may include:
trouble interacting, playing with, or relating to others
little or brief eye contact with others
unusual or repetitive movements, such as hand flapping, spinning, or tapping
delays in developmental milestones or loss of already-achieved milestones
difficulties learning in school
playing with toys in ways that seem odd or repetitive
low muscle tone, clumsiness, and poor spatial awareness
Although there's no cure for autism, early intervention and therapy can help kids develop skills and achieve their potential. Therapy is tailored to each child's individual needs and may include behavioral, educational, speech, and occupational therapies.
Students with autism may:
get easily frustrated and act out in certain situations
be sensitive to bright lights, loud noises, or busy hallways
need to go to the school nurse for medications
miss class time for doctor visits and therapies
have trouble speaking or not speak at all
seem insensitive or unemotional
need extra time for class assignments and homework
need to take tests in a separate area away from distractions
Because bullies often target students who seem "different," health conditions like autism can put kids and teens at higher risk for bullying.
What Teachers Can Do
Many students with autism can thrive in a structured environment, so establish a routine and keep it as consistent as possible. Adhering to daily schedules and allowing ample time for transitions can help with many students' behavioral issues and frustrations.
Instructional support is often needed within the classroom setting. Students with autism learn better with pictures and demonstrations. Limit long verbal instructions and provide visual cues and written instructions, when possible. Also limit distractions and use positive rewards for positive behaviors.
Many people with autism have strong passions and deep interests. Getting to know your students' likes and dislikes can help you understand what motivates them. Students with autism can participate in most activities that other kids and teens do, so provide encouragement to participate when appropriate.