Things that have helped teachers working with my ASD kid:
- Social stories. That’s a photo book with descriptive sentences for each thing that will happen in the picture. For example: (Picture of school): “Today [child’s name] will go to Kindergarten. (Picture of teacher and child together): This is [child’s name] teacher. (Picture of classroom): In class we will [color, sing, etc.]. (Picture of bathroom): Then we will go to the bathroom. (Picture of lunchroom): Next, we will have lunch.” etc., each place with a picture and a description of what happens.
- Sensory issues. Sudden, loud noises are often a big trigger. Same with bright fluorescent lights. Anything sticky. If you can avoid these, great. If not, the child might need a space to calm down after encountering them.
- Use tactile calming devices. Example: a strong necklace of beads, or a metal puzzle with no sharp edges, or a stress squeeze ball. If the child can play with these in their hands (quietly so it doesn’t distract other kids), it can help them listen.
- Schedule Organization/Repetition. Do the same kinds of things in the same order every class. Try to warn the child ahead of time if there will be a schedule change.
- Remember that lots of kids on the spectrum have trouble with fine motor skills and large muscle coordination. They can learn, it just takes more work, and an usually patient teacher. Plan activities accordingly.
- Don’t touch the child unless absolutely necessary. When the child becomes comfortable with you, they’ll approach you. If you go after them, they’ll likely freak out, so only do it when it’s a matter of safety.
- Lots of autistic kids are wanderers/runners. Be aware that they might make a break for the door, be through the parking lot, and out into the street in seconds.
- Toilet training is often years behind in these kids, and often they’re not aware that they need to use the bathroom until it’s an emergency. Make sure the child uses the bathroom at appropriate times, even if the child doesn’t act like they need to.
- Have a quiet, pleasant place set up in advance where you can take the child when they’re having a meltdown.
- Learn what special interests the child has. Many autistic kids have a particular special interest (and it can change from month-to-month or year-to-year). The child might know everything in the world about Thomas the Train, for example. Knowing that might give you a key to working with the child.
- Autistic kids usually aren’t in tune with their own emotional temperatures. As a result, they’ll appear to be fine, even though something is really, really bugging them. It builds to a certain point, and suddenly they lash out, or start screaming. Try to be extra vigilant about noticing whether they’re on an even keel or not, and, when they have an outburst, try to think back to what was happening in the five minutes right before it, to learn if there was something that could be avoided next time.
- Autistic kids are often listening and learning, even when they’re making no eye contact whatsoever and/or yelling and running back and forth at the back of the room. I’ve seen an autistic child at a nature program do exactly that, and a few days later repeat to her mom almost all of the information that was presented.
- Sometimes autistic children use other people’s words in order to communicate their ideas. If a child repeats back exactly what you said, they’re probably not mocking you, they’re probably trying out the words you said and seeing if they fit an idea. Also, they might use quotes from shows they’ve seen in order to answer questions or share ideas. This can be jarring for a teacher, but try to get past the out-of-sync word choice and understand what the child’s trying to communicate.