Back to School Tips for Teachers: Autism Spectrum Disorder, Level 1

Sun, Sep 20, 2015

Distance Learning, Uncategorized

By Bethanie L. Hansen, D.M.A.
Faculty Director, School of Education at American Public University

Purposeful relationship-building and preventative approaches in your classroom will be crucial for positive results for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

ASD is a developmental disability. The disorder might be manifested through a child’s manner of communicating, interacting, behaving, and learning that seem different from most other children. Deficits in these areas are noticeable in different settings and activities throughout the day.

Because ASD is a spectrum of restricted social, interaction, and behavior patterns with a wide range, it is differentiated in three levels according to the degree of support required. A child with level 2 or 3 ASD may be in a self-contained special education program or have a dedicated 1-1 aide assisting throughout the day, but children with level 1 ASD are more likely to be in your class—very capable and intelligent, while restricted in social and communication skills and flexible thinking.

In your classroom, a child with level 1 ASD can appear to be tuned out to the focus of a lesson, unable to communicate effectively with peers, or might look away from the speaker when engaged in 1-1 conversations. Children who have ASD tend to focus intensely on one or a few interests and repeatedly turn conversations back to those topics. They may struggle to shift from one activity to the next.

A child with ASD might occasionally rock in his or her seat, flap hands in the air when excited or anxious, and insist that routines be followed exactly. Inflexible thinking, also referred to as concrete thinking, could mean that a child with ASD interprets instructions or lessons literally and misses the hidden or interpreted meaning within a concept. Frustrations that come from the child’s concrete thinking could lead to explosive behaviors like tantrums, meltdowns, or defiance.

If you have a child with ASD in your classroom, a few basic strategies can help this child have a positive school year and allow your class to run smoothly.

  1. Purposely build a positive relationship with the child. Where discipline is needed, ensure that he or she understands what behavior led to the consequence, and assure that there will be a fresh start the next day that does not bring up past infractions.
  2. Plan the daily schedule to be structured and maintain consistency. Posting your schedule and discussing it frequently can help prevent unpleasant surprises and allows the child with ASD to mentally prepare for new activities and transitions.
  3. Talk about the next day(s) before sending students home each afternoon and avoid surprises. If something needs to be a surprise for your entire class, find a way to prepare the child who has ASD for the surprise so that it can be pleasant instead of producing anxiety.
  4. Revise assignment instructions so they are clear to the concrete thinker. For example, if you ask a child to write about what he or she learned from a particular reading passage, consider instead asking the child to write about what was meant to be learned from the reading passage. Chunk assignments into small and manageable pieces with due dates. Breaking things down into smaller parts will help lower anxiety and build success.
  5. Give reasonable rewards and communicate them ahead of time. Working toward a goal is helpful for any child, but rewards can help children with ASD persevere through tasks they might find irrelevant or unpleasant.

For additional support in working with children who have level 1 ASD, consider:

  • Joining a professional organization, such as the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)
  • Reading additional resources, such as those at the CDC (or National Institute of Mental Health)
  • Pursuing additional education through an advanced degree.

American Public University’s fall 2015 catalogue introduces a new ASD concentration in its Master of Education in Teaching degree—a great way to become more informed, confident, and prepared for success in working with children who have ASD.

Regardless of your route, learning strategies to help students with ASD in your classroom and planning ahead will help you start the year well and lead all students to success.

About the Author

Dr. Bethanie Hansen taught public school music for 19 years and is an Associate Professor and Faculty Director for the School of Arts & Humanities at American Public University/American Military University. She holds a Doctor of Music Arts in Music Education degree from Boston University. Dr. Hansen has presented teacher workshops and research both in the United States and in Brazil on topics such as ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, working with children who have special needs in music classes, careers, writing, and online education. Her current research interests include online learning, autism spectrum disorders, and music education areas.

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