Basic Tips for Educators Working with Autism Spectrum Students

Basic Tips for Educators Working with Autism Spectrum Students

For professionals working in the realm of education, teaching or coaching students with Autism Spectrum Disorder can be vastly different than working with a “neuro-typical” student. Working with students with AS can at times be challenging. Listed below are 15 tips that can serve as basic guidelines for working with AS students, and hopefully lead to academic success for these students.

  1. Use direct language. AS students have a hard time picking up on tone of voice and cues. So, it’s best to say directly what you want the student to do instead of suggesting what you want them to do.

  2. Always put instructions in the same location. If you put instructions in the left side of the white board, or on top of an assignment, make sure to do that every time so that the student is used knowing where it is, and doesn’t have to “hunt” for them. Otherwise a student with AS might not remember the step of “searching” for directions.

  3. Try to limit options. For example, instead of sending a student to the library to check out a book (which could take all day!), give them an option of 3 titles.

  4. Try to avoid sarcasm. Tone of voice is difficult to pick up on for AS students. If you say, “Great! You’re 10 minutes late!” the student might take that literally.

  5. Use a student’s fixation as a motivator, and try to incorporated it into teaching. Most individuals with AS have something they are fixated on, or obsessed with. Use this to motivate and connect what you are teaching. Maybe 5 correct math problems equals 5 minutes of playing with a train set. Or use trains as characters in a story.

  6. Teach and show a student what a finished task looks like. Many students with AS might not know what the standard expectation is. For example, they might just color a small portion of a coloring page, and then want to move on to something else. Having examples of what a complete assignment looks like, or a rubric that the student can compare their work to is helpful.

  7. Write down steps for sequences, or use pictures to show sequences. Remembering sequences can be a huge challenge. Writing down the steps for a process, or having visual images for a process that a student can refer to can be helpful.

  8. Try to always give advanced warning of any changes in a schedule. Like most students, students with AS need structure. However, disruption or change in a routine can cause major anxiety. For example, if you usually go to the computer lab Wednesday, but have to change the day to Friday one week, be sure to explain this to the student well in advanced.

  9. Avoid asking a student for too much all at once. Some AS students face challenges with multi-tasking, especially if a task involves multiple forms of sensory input/ output. For example, taking notes while watching a movie in class could be extremely difficult. It can help if you ask the student to do one task at a time.

  10. Don’t take a student’s “rude” behavior personally. Students with AS don’t always have a good grasp on what is “polite” or not. If a student is rude to you, it is helpful to understand that the student may be confused or anxious for reasons that are unrelated to you.

  11. Consciously be aware of teaching generalization to rules. Neuro-typical students often times understand when a rule is generalized. For example, when you tell a student to put their name on their paper they will generalize that to all papers, but a student with AS might think only that paper needs a name on it.

  12. Remove as many distractions as possible. A student with AS can often experience sensory overload. Finding a quiet place for them to work can help a student to focus.

  13. Know a student’s sources and signs of anxiety. It can be helpful to know what causes a student to become anxious (such as changes in schedule or loud noises). Also it helps to know a students “warning” signs of anxiety such as fidgeting or blushing. By knowing the signs and sources you can notice when they might start to be upset, and keep the student calm.

  14. Explore alternate forms of word processing. Writing is one of the biggest challenges that AS students face. It is worthwhile to try other “forms” of writing. For example, typing on a computer instead of writing with a pencil (holding writing utensils can be difficult), or using a voice recognition software.

    Try to assess a student’s knowledge through oral tests, or presentations. As mentioned above, writing can be challenging. Therefore, asking a AS student to write their answer on a test, or write a paper might not be the best measure of their learning. Instead of writing answers on a test, have the student orally answer questions to you.