Teaching and learning for kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) exhibit repetitive behaviours. They also have difficulty with communication and social interaction. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 169 children has an ASD. It is possible to diagnose ASDs by the age of 2. While some people can live independently with ASD, others require lifelong support and care.
Life can get particularly challenging for parents with an ASD child. A child with ASD has a different way of perceiving communication. Everything is very literal for them. Communication style and a routine-based lifestyle is most important for an ASD child. Here are the points that must be incorporated in the teaching and learning process of children with ASD:
Maintain an organized routine: A comfort zone is especially important for an ASD child. Knowing what is coming up next keeps them calm and in self-control. Maintain a timetable with every activity. Pre-define all the activities within the day with as little changes as possible. A chaotic board can also be upsetting for an ASD child. Make the activities, topics on the board clear, organized and separated with broad lines.
Preparation time for changes: For any unforeseen changes, give the child a head start. It will further help if you fix a particular symbol for a change. Mark it in the timetable when the change is supposed to happen. Changes are never taken easily by an ASD child. But at least this will give them some preparation time.
Incorporate special interests: ASD children might get obsessed with a special interest. Note that such an interest can take up hours of the child’s attention easily. Use such interests to encourage learning and make it interesting for him or her. For instance, drawing the interest on learning material. You can also talk in the voice of the character. Or give the interest a name and character. It could also be utilized as a form of reinforcement – if the child finishes a task, s/he gets to spend time with the object of interest.
Positive reinforcement: It is important to use only positive reinforcement. Negative reinforcement will usually create stress and cause children to shut down completely.
Activity based learning: A hands on learning experience works wonders for every child. But for an ASD child activity-based learning is often the only way. Lectures just do not work for them. Include learning tools that stimulate multiple senses that makes learning fun and interactive.
Sensorial sensitivity: Children with ASD are sensitive to sensory stimuli that we might not even notice. Sudden buzzing sounds, bright colours, flashy lights etc. are a big NO for such children. So, try and avoid such situations as far as possible.
Communicate literally: Have you seen the character of ‘Sheldon Cooper’ from the series Big bang theory? If so, you know about his lack of understanding sarcasm. Situations with ASD children can be similar. Always keep a direct approach of communication. In our day to day communication, we are used to gestures, facial expressions, sarcasms. While communicating with an ASD child, all these communication forms must be forgotten. Direct and simple communication with help of signs or pictures works best.
Social skill development: Every child loves to play. And playing is a social activity. But for ASD children this social interaction is challenging. Therefore, teachers and parents must closely support while encouraging ASD children in socializing and playing. And not leave them with other children one fine day. Keep a fixed time for play. For instance, going to the park, interaction with a specific friend etc. must be on the timetable.
Be patient: Many a times, it might look like the child is not listening to you at all. And it will frustrate you as a teacher and even as a parent. It is important to keep in mind all times that an ASD child understands and listens to you. But they need time to process the information and to react to it. And you need to allow them that extra time.
Eventually, a child is a child, each different from one another. And is the joy and responsibility of the parents and teachers to nurture at best. The process and resources might differ, more for some and few for some others. But it is all there – well within the approach of parents and teachers. Reach out to experts sooner than later!
Recommendation: Dr. Harshita Misra (Founder & Clinical Head, Mom’s Belief Samvedna Centre)