Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Did you know?

  •           Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) affect 1 person in 165.
  •           ASD is characterized by impairments in communication and social interaction, as well as unusual patterns of behaviours, interests and activities.
  •           The symptoms of ASD can range from mild to severe impairments in several areas of development.
  •           Three disorders are considers ASD: autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD NOS).
  •           Parents should be involved in the program planning and teachers should ensure that there is regular, positive communication with the parents.
  •          Unusual developmental profiles are common for students with ASD, and therefore careful documentation of a student’s unique strengths and weaknesses is necessary and can have a major impact on the design of effective intervention programs.
  •           Comprehensive assessment information is necessary in order to develop individual learning profiles and appropriate educational programs for students with ASD.
  •           Most students with ASD have special education needs that need to be considered in an Individual Education Plan (IEP).
  •           Students with ASD often experience difficulty with change. Establishing consistent practices is promoted through collaborative planning. Education strategies and practices are most effective if they are implemented across various settings, including the home, school and community. Also, teachers must carefully plan for transitions between activities during the school day.
  •           Universal Design for Planning (UDL) and differentiated instruction are recommended for teachers to use with ASD students.

I had a student (J.) with Asperger’s syndrome in grade 9 applied science/math, and also the grade 4 son (G.) of a good friend is affected by this syndrome. I have been the witness to the numerous challenges these kids have to face, and I am interested in learning more on how to help them in the classroom. These students experience social interaction issues, such as difficulty in interacting with others, difficulty in reading and understanding social cues, and responding in an unusual manner to social situations. For example, J. had a difficult time interacting with his peers in the class: he had a very different kind of humor, he was too direct with people during discussions, not really capable of nuancing his thoughts and opinions. People with ASD have difficulties communicating their thoughts and needs. For example, G. takes what he reads and hears in a very literal sense and that can lead to miscommunication when people use expressions or figures of speech with him. Another characteristic of people with ASD is the need for routines and rules. An unexpected change in routine is very challenging and can lead to behavior problems. Also, they tend to be very sensitive to noise, visual and other sensory stimuli, and it is necessary to have a safe space in the classroom or another room for these students to go to when they are feeling overloaded.

One challenge for teachers with ASD students is that they all have different needs and their impairments can range from mild to severe. Additionally, some of these students have severe learning disabilities while others can be gifted (but still have learning disabilities in certain areas). For example, G. is in a gifted class at school. There is no “one size fits all” situation for any students, and this is even truer for ASD students. Therefore a lot of regular assessing and planning is necessary by the teaching team (teacher, EA, principal) throughout the year to establish the progress with the ASD student, and schools must involve parents in the process because they know best what triggers their child and what their child needs in terms of routine and surroundings. As a new teacher, it would be daunting to have a child with ASD in the class, because I think it is inevitable that there will be some trial and error with what works and what doesn’t with the student, and one mistake can lead to a big behavioral blow-up. My friend was happy with the excellent teacher that G. had last year, but there were numerous problems with the EA, who did not have a specific training for ASD kids and made several mistakes with G. Unfortunately, some mistakes are not inconsequential and can lead to behavior regression. In my opinion, there should be a special training provided to teachers and EAs who deal with students with ASD.

For more information and tips on ASD students in the classroom, you can consult these links:

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