Whether you have a student with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in your classroom for the first time or have had many students on the spectrum in previous teaching years, there are few things to remember or to help prepare yourself for the upcoming year.
- One size doesn’t fit all. There are many individual differences among students with ASD. It is important to get to know your student at the beginning of the year. Look at the student file, talk to other teachers, and spend time with the student to become aware of communication abilities, preferences, ability level, etc. Additionally, it is important to remember that effective strategies used for a previous student may not work for your current student. Each student is different and will require various and alternative strategies.
- Use the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to focus on the student’s strengths and challenges. The goals (measureable and specific) listed in the IEP should include details around the accommodations that will be used to meet those goals. Teachers should be included in the IEP meeting and partake in data collection for the specific goals.
- Learn about autism. If this is your first student with autism, it may benefit you to research ASD and supports for students in your classroom. There are some general evidence-based strategies that can be extremely helpful (see August Tip of the Month). Research shows that teachers are more likely to implement new strategies and interventions when they are familiar and comfortable with those strategies. If your staff contains teachers familiar with ASD, talk about their experiences and gain some suggestions from them. For those teachers with ASD experience, take some time to familiarize yourself with new research and interventions. The ASD literature base is evolving and there are many new interventions that can be implemented in the classroom.
- Education for other students in the classroom regarding differences may be provided. For some students, this could be the first time they encounter a student with autism. Education of differences among students will help other students recognize the challenges that your student with autism may encounter.
- Environmental accommodations should be made. There are various strategies that teachers can implement to help the student with autism feel safe and comfortable. Accommodations such as alternative lighting, alternative seats and desks, quiet/break space, visual supports, etc. Remember, it’s ok to change things throughout the year. The strategies that worked in the beginning of the year, may not work towards the end. Make sure the student is comfortable and safe!