Tips for Teaching High-Functioning People with Autism (page 2)

By — MAAP Services for Autism and Asperger Syndrome
Updated on Jul 26, 2007

Be as concrete as possible in all your interactions with these students. Remember that facial expression and other social cues may not work. Avoid asking questions such as, "Why did you do that?" Instead, say, "I didn't like the way you slammed your book down on the desk when I said it was time for gym. Please put your book down on the desk quietly and get up to leave for gym." In answering essay questions that require a synthesis of information, autistic individuals rarely know when they have said enough, or if they are properly addressing the core of the question. 

If the student doesn't seem to be able to learn a task, break it down into smaller steps or present the task in several different ways (e.g., visually, verbally, physically). 

  1. Avoid verbal overload. Be clear. Use shorter sentences if you perceive that the student isn't fully understanding you. Although he probably has no hearing problem and may be paying attention, he may have a problem understanding your main point and identifying the important information. 
  2. Prepare the student for all environmental and/or routine changes, such as assembly, substitute teacher, rescheduling, etc. Use his written or visual schedule to prepare for change. 
  3. Behavior management works, but if incorrectly used, it can encourage robot-like behavior, provide only a short term behavior change, or result in more aggression. Use positive and chronologically age-appropriate behavior procedures
  4. Consistent treatment and expectations from everyone is vital. 
  5. Be aware that normal levels of auditory and visual input can be perceived by the student as too much or too little. For example, the hum of fluorescent lighting is extremely distracting for some people with autism. Consider environmental changes such as removing some of the "visual clutter" from the room or seating changes if the student seems distracted or upset by his classroom environment. 
  6. If your high-functioning student with autism uses repetitive verbal arguments and/or repetitive verbal questions, try requesting that he write down the question or argumentative statement. Then write down your reply. As the writing continues, the person with autism usually begins to calm down and stop the repetitive activity. If that doesn't work, write down his repetitive verbal question or argument, and then ask him to formulate and write down a logical reply or a reply he thinks you would make. This distracts him from the escalating verbal aspect of the argument or question and sometimes gives his a more socially acceptable way of expressing his frustration or anxiety. 
    If the student does not read or write, try role playing the repetitive verbal question or argument with you taking their part and them answering you. Continually responding in a logical manner or arguing back seldom stops this behavior. The subject of their argument or question is not always the subject which has upset them. The argument or question more often communicates a feeling of loss of control or uncertainty about someone or something in the environment. 
    Individuals with autism often have trouble "getting" your points. If the repetitive verbal argument or question persists, consider the possibility that he is very concerned about the topic and does not know how to rephrase the question or comment to get the information he needs. 
  7. Since these individuals experience various communication difficulties, don't rely on the student with autism to relay important messages to their parents about school events, assignments, school rules, etc. unless you try it on an experimental basis with follow-up, or unless you are already certain that the student has mastered this skill. Even sending home a note for his parent may not work. The student may not remember to deliver the note or may lose it before reaching home. Phone calls to the parent work best until this skill can be developed. Frequent and accurate communication between the teacher and parent (or primary care-giver) is very important. 
  8. If your class involves pairing off or choosing partners, either draw numbers or use some other arbitrary means of pairing. Or ask an especially kind student if he or she would agree to choose the individual with autism as a partner. This should be arranged before the pairing is done. The student with autism is most often the individual left with no partners. This is unfortunate since these students could benefit most from having a partner
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