Autism Spectrum Disorder (Part 1): An Overview for Educators
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can result in significant delays and developmental differences in several areas: communication, social interaction, and behavior. The major characteristics of ASD include:
Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across contexts
Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities
ASD is referred to as a spectrum disorder because children and students with this disability—such as those highlighted in this module—display a range of strengths, abilities, and needs.
Social Communication/Social Interaction
Restricted, Repetitive Patterns of Behavior/ Interests/Activities
(4 yrs old)
Communicates only when he initiates the interaction
Interacts with others only to get items that he wants
Does not participate in most age-appropriate activities
Shows no interest in peers
Content to be by himself
Lines up toy cars
Tantrums when given instructions or asked to participate in non-preferred activities
(10 yrs old)
Makes unsuccessful attempts to interact with peers
Has difficulty with language
Obsessed with comic book superheroes—excessively quotes and acts out scenes from their stories
(2 1/2 yrs old)
Does not have functional play skills
Is not interested in peers
Cannot communicate wants and needs effectively
Eats a limited number of foods
Throws self on floor, hits parents, and throws objects when unable to communicate wants and needs
(15 yrs old)
Is outspoken with adults and peers
Has difficulty taking cues from her audience
Violates others’ personal space
Has difficulty making friends at school
Obsessed with outer space
Rocks back and forth in her chair
The prevalence of ASD is increasing, and most children and students with this disability receive instruction in the general education environment. Teachers should use strategies—like those described in this module—that improve outcomes for these children and students.
Listen as Ilene Schwartz provides a brief summary of ASD.
Ilene Schwartz, PhD Professor, Special Education Director, Haring Center for Research and Training in Inclusive Education University of Washington
Students with autism are students first. That’s the key to this module. What we know about children with autism is that they have core deficits in the areas of social communication and in the areas of restrictive or repetitive range of behaviors. But what we also know about children with autism is that they may be academically on target, they may be academically advanced, and they may have cognitive deficits and be behind academically.
The number of children with autism is increasing dramatically. So every teacher during their career is going to teach a child with autism. But they’re going to come with different behaviors, and those behaviors can be quirky, they can be annoying, they can be different, but children with autism can accomplish incredible things. So every teacher will have a child with autism in their classroom during their career. If you embrace the challenge of working with children with autism, it can be one of the most wonderful experiences in your career. But you have to meet children with autism, like all children, where they are. You have to embrace their strengths and help them through their areas of needs and their areas of deficits, but that can be done using evidence-based instructional practices and data-based decision making to guide the instruction to help children make as much progress as they can.
A child with autism takes a village. No one teacher can do it alone. It takes an educational team. And that team needs to include the general ed teacher, the special ed teacher, the parents, a speech-language pathologist, the school administrator or principal, and other members, other related service providers. It often is going to include a board-certified behavior analyst, because we know that implied behavior analysis is one of the most effective strategies to teach children with autism. But the great thing about working with children with autism is they are children first. And when you see them learn and accomplish new skills, it’s a wonderful accomplishment for them and a wonderful opportunity for the whole educational team to celebrate.
We know that children with autism go to college with regularity now. Children with autism grow up and are your neighbors. They work at Microsoft, and they work in the supermarket, and they work in every place in our community.
Revisiting Initial Thoughts
Think back to your initial responses to the following questions. After working through the resources in this module, do you still agree with your Initial Thoughts? If not, what aspects of your answers would you change?
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?
When you are ready, proceed to the Assessment section.