Autistic children are usually visual thinkers, so teaching by speech alone will not be entirely effective. It is also common for autistic children to have difficulty connecting 2 events. For example, if teaching reading with flash cards, it is best to have both the picture and written word on the same side. If they are on different sides, the child may not understand that they represent the same idea. Although there are many unique ways of teaching, the following three methods by Helene Goldnadel have proven to be helpful in teaching autistic children:
1) Social Stories
Social stories are used to teach social skills to children with autism. They are simple descriptions of everyday situations, written from a child’s perspective. Social stories can be useful in helping a child prepare for changes in routine or learn appropriate social skills. The child practices these stories ahead of time in hopes that when the actual situation arises, the child can use the story to help guide his or her behavior.
Example: I like to talk to my friends. I like it when my friends talk to me. To talk to my friends I need to ask questions. Sometimes I do not know how to ask questions. When I see my friends at school I can say, “Hi, how are you?”
2) Visual Supports
Since individuals with autism are often described as “visual learners,” it makes sense that autistic children learn easier through visual activities. Pictures and cue cards are great ways to enhance the learning experience. Token economy systems are also useful in educating autistic children. In a token system the child is rewarded for each correct response then slowly moves to a schedule where the child must make several correct responses before the reward is given. Token economy systems are great for building the ability to delay gratification, enhancing a child’s attention span and increasing the amount of work that a child is able to produce in a given period of time.
Interactions between you and your child (verbal or non-verbal) help to build skills. They are ways to build family connections by enhancing your child’s emotional growth. The more animated you are and the more energy you have, the easier it will be to keep the child’s attention. The child now views you as a fun play partner. Singing fun songs, playing Simon Says, pretending to be zoo animals (yes, this means acting out the role!) are all ways to engage the child into exploring their feelings and encourage original thinking.
Autism is so prevalent today that one in every 166 people have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum. We cannot ignore this disorder any more and it is our responsibility as parents and educators to come up with new and effective ways of educating autistic children. Although there are many unique ways of teaching, the 3 methods reviewed above are just a few methods that have proven to be helpful in teaching autistic children.