Strategies for Working with Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder
August 18, 2015, The IRIS Center
Ilene Schwartz discusses getting to know the student and family, providing instruction in autism-specific skills and areas, using evidence-based practices and data-based decision making, creating structured environments, and creating social opportunities (time: 8:31).
Question asked of Ilene Schwartz in this audio:
What are some strategies that personnel in early childhood settings and general education classrooms can use to promote the success of a child or student with autism spectrum disorder?
Ilene Schwartz, PhD
Professor, Special Education
Director, Haring Center for Research and Training
in Inclusive Education, University of Washington
Transcript: Ilene Schwartz, PhD
Narrator: This Interview is brought to you by the IRIS Center, a national center funded by the Office of Special Education Programs.
Ilene Schwartz on strategies teachers can employ to increase the likelihood of success for a child or student with autism spectrum disorder. Ilene Schwartz discusses getting to know the student and family, providing instruction in autism-specific skills and areas, using evidence-based practices and data-based decision making, creating structured environments, and creating social opportunities.
Narrator: What are some strategies that personnel in early childhood settings and general education classrooms can use to promote the success of a child or student with autism spectrum disorder?
Ilene Schwartz: Let me give you an example of what I would do if a child was new to my program. The first thing I would do before the child entered the program is I would have a conversation with their family. And, ideally, if the family was comfortable with that, I would like to go visit the child at their home. If they weren’t comfortable with that, I would invite them to come to the school for a day for a meeting before they started class. And one of the things I want to know is what the child likes, find out a little bit about them. Who do they consider to be their family? Who are their parents? Do they have grandparents that they’re close to? Do they have siblings or cousins that they’re close to? Do they have any pets? Just the things that you would want to know about any child that was going to be in your classroom. I want them to feel comfortable. I want to start to develop a relationship with that child, because we know that we learn better when we have a positive relationship with our teacher or instructor. I want to start identifying activities and materials that are reinforcing to that child. So does the child love animals? Do they like to look at different pictures of dogs or cats? Are they afraid of things? Are they afraid of dogs or cats? Do they like trains or flowers, or what is it that is reinforcing to that child? I also want to know what the children are good at. Every child with a disability has areas that they need to make more progress in. But we also know that they have areas that are strengths for them, and we want to know what those are so that we can make sure that some of those activities and materials are available for the child so that there’s something that will make them feel comfortable when they start school. So I want to make sure that I have some interaction, some knowledge about the child before they set foot in the classroom to help them feel like it’s their classroom and make them feel more comfortable.
The next thing I’m going to worry about is making sure that I provide instruction in autism-specific skills and areas. So as teachers we know that we work in the main academic areas: reading, mathematics, social studies. But for children with autism, we know that the core deficit areas are social communications and expanded areas of interests and flexibility and participation in age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate activities. So I want to make sure that I’m embedding instruction on communication across my curriculum across the school day. And for some children that might mean teaching them how to request taking a turn in an activity with a friend. For other children, it might be having a conversation about a topic that is interesting to their peers and not just a topic that is interesting to them. For other children, it might be around social skills. I might be helping children understand that you can’t always pick the game that you want to play when other children want to play a different game. And for many children we have to teach them how to lose. There are many children in our program that don’t respond very well to losing a board game. Losing a board game may prompt a tantrum, and we have to teach children that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, and that’s okay. And that might be a targeted behavior, how to lose gracefully. So one of the things that we talk about when we look at providing instruction in autism-specific skills and areas is how we make abstract notions concrete.
Teachers also need to make sure that when they’re teaching that they start their instructional plans by using evidence-based practices. Once we select an evidence-based practice to use, however, we need to make sure that we’re also using our data-based decision making when implementing that evidence-based practice, because the evidence-based practice is a starting place. Then our data-based decision making goes hand-in-hand with that to ensure that the child is making the kind of progress that we want to see them make. We also want to make sure that for every child we create instructional supports and services that meet that child’s needs. That means some children may need instruction that’s more intense than others. Some children may need a longer day. Some children may need more time with an instructional assistant, and some children may do fine in the general ed classroom with support. So we have to make sure that it’s based on the needs of that child and not based on a preconceived notion of what a program for children with autism should look like.
We know that children with autism like structured environments. Children with autism often do very well when they have their schedules in front of them. What we want to do is make sure that we create an environment that helps the child be more independent. Any time we use a schedule or a visual support for a child with autism we have to be thinking about what is that schedule or visual support teaching the child? And how is that schedule or visual support helping the child be more independent? We want to think about how is that schedule or visual support going to either be faded out or become the child’s so that they can take it with them across environments and use it in a way that helps them be more independent? When thinking about environments, are there things that may be distracting or difficult for children with autism? And they can sometimes be visual distractions or auditory distractions. We want to think about how we can minimize those, and as children get older how we can help children identify what kind of learning environments help them do their best work and how they can advocate with their teachers and how they can advocate for themselves to help their teachers create learning environments that help them do their very best work.
Finally, we need to make sure that if we want children with autism to learn and use social skills then we need to make sure that they have opportunities to interact every day with other children. I recommend that children with autism have opportunities to interact everyday with typically developing children. We know that you develop social skills by using your social skills. And that means that we have to think across the school day as to when children have the opportunity to practice social skills. That means playing with other children, talking with other children, working in collaborative groups with other children. And, since children with autism are learning those skills, they need feedback. They may need specially designed instruction to know how to participate meaningfully in instructional groups, in conversational groups, in social-skills groups.
Narrator: Thank you for listening to this episode of the IRIS Center podcast. For more information about the IRIS Center and its resources, visit us at www.iriscenter.com [https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/].