Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) require specialized attention and services in the classroom. The range of these services can vary depending on the unique needs of the child and the programming available at the child’s school. There have been numerous studies in recent years evaluating different types of interventions with children who are diagnosed with an ASD, all of which indicate the earlier the intervention, the better the outcomes. The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders referenced utilizing Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention starting as early as preschool, ages 2 and up, with gains seen in both IQ and adaptive behavior.
Why do children with Autism and other learning differences on the spectrum struggle to engage and advance in school? One of the hallmarks of Autism is the brain’s inability to process sensory input correctly. The body receives an influx of sensory information but cannot assign appropriate meaning: is the doorbell ringing really as loud as a 747 landing; are the flashing lights ripping through one’s body like knives or are they unnoticeable? These are just a couple examples of how everyday information may be misinterpreted by a child with Autism. One can only imagine how difficult it would be for said child to understand the world around her and the lack of mirrored responses or empathy in her family, friends and peers.
Autism and school behavior are very closely linked. In an article entitled Surviving the Mainstream, researchers discuss “teacher ratings of academic performance and classroom emotional and behavioral regulation” of students with ASD as contrasted with typically developing peers. Researchers found that teachers gave students with ASD higher ratings than their neurotypical peers for behavioral and emotional difficulties, to include problems with attention, aggression, and mental health (such as anxiety and depression). The study found that 54% of students with ASD were rated as “under-achieving” in academic performance while only 8% of typically developing peers were given similar ratings. Even though the students with ASD included in the study were receiving various classroom supports, it is clear they were still struggling with attention and both emotional and behavioral issues that impacted their academic success.
A student with ASD is just as different and unique from other students with ASD as neurotypical children are from one to the next. This is important for teachers, school support staff, and families to understand as one solution will not meet all needs, one intervention will not always be the “cure”, and no child is stuck in their functioning level forever. With appropriate interventions, children with ASD can learn coping skills and mechanisms to help them improve their levels of functioning, increase attention, and better manage emotional regulation. Children with an ASD struggle with different things, and similarly will be experts in different things. One child may struggle with sounding out words, another may be entirely non-verbal, and yet a third may be a verbal whiz, memorizing endless new lists. One of the keys to success is routine. Typically developing children require routine to grow and this is particularly important for children on the spectrum. Transitions can be hard, from activities and locations to new faces and settings. Schedules and routines give comfort and allow a child with ASD to thrive.
Some tips for teachers and staff in handling Autism and school behavior can be useful, and are important for families to also understand. Everyone interacting with a child with ASD need to be aware of sensory issues. The average student can probably describe if he or she is in need of something, such as assistance in tightening a shoe or dislodging a pebble. However the child with ASD may not be able to process that the room has become too cold and it is time for a sweater. Instead the sensory input may become overwhelming and result in behavioral issues. Repetitive patters, also known as stimming, can be calming for children with ASD, who find comfort in the routine. Children with ASD need to be allowed time to rest if they become overstimulated, in an area with lower light and sound, or at least minimal visual stimulation. Those working with a child with ASD need to be clear, direct, and avoid using idioms as those may be lost on a child who seeks to process information literally.
Another fantastic tool for working with autism and school behavior is the use of specialized summer camps. Those like Talisman Camps can teach campers with Autism and other learning disorders the skills they need to focus attention and carry out tasks, build confidence through successfully overcoming new environments and routines, and increase independence. Campers build relationships with similarly-abled peers as well as highly-trained staff, giving them the skills needed to navigate social situations more confidently. Often when these campers return to school after summer camp sessions, they are able to make leaps and bounds in the classroom. They learn the skills and are given time to practice them, with minimal distractions, in the security of the camp setting. If you are interested in giving your son or daughter a unique opportunity to advance this summer, contact us today! We’d love to discuss our programs for Aspergers and Autism as well as put you in touch with other families who have found significant improvements in their child’s autism and school behavior.