Autism Spectrum Disorder (Part 1): An Overview for Educators
View the movie below and then proceed to the Initial Thoughts section (time: 4:42).
Every child or student with autism spectrum disorder—or ASD—has his or her own strengths, classroom needs, and challenges. Let’s briefly meet four students with ASD.
This is Drew, an energetic four-year-old. Drew only communicates with others when he initiates the interaction, most often when someone has something that he wants. Drew spends his free time lining up toy cars in the classroom. The teacher has a hard time redirecting him to any other activity. He seems content to be by himself and often tantrums when asked to comply with teachers’ instructions or to participate in non-preferred activities. As a result, he does not participate in most age-appropriate activities at his school, such as story time and dramatic play, and shows no interest in his peers. His parents are worried about what will happen when Drew enters kindergarten. They are not sure what his educational program should look like or where to turn for help.
This is Jaquese, a ten-year-old student in an inclusive fourth-grade classroom. Jaquese loves mathematics and science and is above grade level in both subjects. Because of this, his teachers have a hard time keeping him engaged during mathematics and science instruction. On the other hand, Jaquese has difficulty with reading comprehension, both when a story is read to him and when he reads it independently. He is obsessed with superheroes and will frequently act out scenes from their films and comic book adventures. This is often frustrating for the teacher, because no matter how she tries to distract him from his imaginary super-heroics, he always comes back to them. In fact, he often cannot begin his work until he has finished acting out an entire scene. Further, most students do not share his obsession, and they find Jaquese annoying and do their best to avoid him.
This is David, a 2½-year-old with autism spectrum disorder. He is not interested in other children, and he does not play with toys as they were designed to be played with. For example, instead of pushing toy cars around on the floor, he flips them over and spins their wheels. On the other hand, David loves to play in the water and listen to music. At night, he remains awake for extended periods, something that is exhausting for his parents. Mealtimes are a struggle as well. David eats only a few specific foods and avoids others with textures or consistencies he doesn’t like. He is non-verbal and lacks a systematic way to let his teachers and parents know what he wants. Often, when he is not successful at communicating what he wants, David throws himself on the floor, hits his parents, and throws objects. He has recently been introduced to the Picture Exchange Communication System, often referred to as PECS, but has not yet learned enough to communicate his needs.
Finally, this is Michelle, a fifteen-year-old tenth grader diagnosed with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. Michelle is bright and funny and often outspoken with adults and her peers. She has a good memory and the ability to recall details about all things related to outer space. Although this can lead to interesting conversation, Michelle has a hard time taking cues from her audience when they are tired of a particular subject. She perseverates when the other kids would prefer her to stop. Michelle also displays behaviors that the other students consider strange, such as rocking back and forth in her chair and violating others’ personal space by standing too close when talking to them. All these behaviors present challenges when Michelle is trying to make friends at school. Even so, she loves to be around her peers and would like to participate in a school club or team. However, because she lacks organizational skills, she often misses the deadlines for signing up or trying out.
All of these children have been identified as having autism spectrum disorder. Although you might have noticed some similarities in their needs and their behaviors, you probably noticed a number of differences as well.
Here’s your Challenge:
- What is autism spectrum disorder and what are the characteristics associated with it?
- What should teachers consider when working with students with autism spectrum disorder?
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