1st: Autism does not define the child.
The child has autism, but this is not the only thing you need to know about the child. They each have distinct personalities and different challenges. They are learning how to do their best, just like every other child. Some just have some challenges that are more difficult due to their autism. They have particular interests, hopes and dreams that make a uniquely, wonderful individual.
2nd: Each child is an individual
In my experience, I found children who were really friendly and some who more reserved and withdrawn. Some children struggled with their emotions and some were very quite. As I got to know each child, I understood their strengths and struggles. I understood what motivated them and what they needed help with.
3rd: Repetitive Behavior
Some autistic children display some typical behavior. You may see arm or hand flapping, rocking or repetitive behaviors. They may repeat phrases they hear over and over again. Some children are very easily distracted and need to be redirected to the task often.
4th: Social Aspect
Many children with autism struggle with how to connect socially. Some children need to be reminded to look in your eyes when talking. They have a hard time understanding another person's perspective.
Strategies that helped:
I used sticker charts or incentive cards to motivate my students to adapt their behavior. Many autistic children are visual learners, so the chart reminded them to stay on task because they could see a sticker for each good choice. For a specific behavior, like saying hello, you could have a hello chart, where the student gets a sticker or check mark for each time they say hello. When the student has filled up the chart they can pick a small prize or get to choose a preferred activity, like playing computer or playing legos.
To keep focus I reminded the child to 'check in' with their eyes (look at me) and repeat the directions back to me. I used direct instruction and short directions. For example: Teacher "Sit for sticker. Stand, no sticker." I counted to three to allow the child time to make the right decision. I also used visual clues, like a picture of a child sitting to remind the student what the appropriate behavior is. I praised the student for making good choices as well.
Children with autism sometimes take longer to understand concepts. Reviewing the material and repeating instructions is needed. Give them time to process the material and think about it. Talk to them about what your expectations are before you give them a task. Some children get anxious easily. Having a routine and schedule gives them a understanding of what is going to happen. Students feel they have more control when they can predict what will happen next.
I have a student with autism in my piano studio and have a son who is also autistic. Consistency, patience and love go a long a way in making things easier. I continue to look for the best ways for them to learn.
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