As a substitute teacher, I have served in Special Education classrooms, as support for a variety of student needs. One of my most interesting assignments has been teaching autistic students. This need is growing in communities everywhere. Autistic children may be non-verbal, or display erratic behaviors. Others may appear normal, until an environmental change triggers their inappropriate tantrum. If you are willing to learn about this condition, there is likely to be growth in serving these children as they bloom into adults.
The relative newness of autism creates a role for support people who are flexible, but committed. If you have never interacted with autistic people, put your expectations out of the way. The spectrum of autism describes the functional ability each child exhibits, from high functioning to nonverbal. “More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than Cancer, Diabetes, Downs Syndrome and AIDS combined” says research by the Center for Disease Control.
The reinforcement of positive behaviors can determine whether an autistic child grows to be independent. Successful learning environments for these children must support families. Daily communication with care givers reinforces learning targets in school. The learning strategies for these children include somatic therapy, such as pressure. Additionally, technical devices (ipads, or tablets) have proven excellent tools for teachers to communicate with non-verbal students.
Its possible the high toxicity found in autism is related to urban settings. New evidence researched by the National Institute of Health suggests a link between urban residence and autism. It is unclear whether access to services is an underlying connection to the diagnosis of autism and its treatment. Natural environments plays a key role to everyone’s health. Nature and stress free living are ideal, but what can we change to live a more natural life? A diet of whole foods that are low in gluten and casein (found in dairy products) are being researched for their effective treatment of autism. Biomedical treatment stresses a dietary intervention in collaboration with nutritional therapists and medical doctors.
When approaching a new student with autism, it is important to just observe their behaviors. Meeting new people is not usually easy for this group. Learn the routine of the classroom. They often have anti-social behaviors; no eye contact, separating themselves from the group, repeating a word or phrase. When you observe what is the typical reaction (or lack of reaction), then you are able to document changes in behavior. Keeping a log of interventions can be helpful over time; and in the event they begin working with other support people. Document regularly.
Many autistic students benefit from your ability to watch, not react. The outcome of their accomplishment comes from successful interactions with others. Its not your responsibility to decide, or control, those results. Keep a simple routine. Over time new methods for communicating may develop. For now, keep the classroom routine at three daily choices. Learn the behavior and watch the effect of your intervention. When the outcome of the intervention is unsuccessful, simply let it go. Try another option.
Stable relationships help prevent further toxicity within their diet or environment. As these children age out of school, career counseling creates opportunities that aid with transitions. Sibling support is one means of consistent reinforcement. These students thrive on consistency, but in the adult world there is often chaos. Chaos, or calm there will be more adults with autism in our world in the near future. Creating opportunities to educate and include autistic people in the workforce is already necessary. As an instructor of these children, cooperation with families produces stability. More importantly, their successes showcase a community’s strength.