Some Specific Tips for Helping Students with Autism
- Don’t use “always” or “never” unless that is exactly what you mean.
- Supplement oral with written instructions.
- Use clear directives if a student invades personal space or imposes on class time.
- For example if a student asks too many questions in class: Speak to student and say that the person may raise hand 3 times (for example) in class but then see me after class during specified time to resolve other issues. Then the instructor can meet both the individual and class needs better.
- Ask student to repeat directions in own words to check for comprehension.
- Use pictures and/or graphs to make connections or illustrate generalizations. Pictures can be powerful tools.
- Do not assume that sophisticated vocabulary is associated with clear understanding of concepts.
- Give advance notice of schedule changes.
- Try to teach generalizations and consolidate information (gist of things) without getting bogged down in details. (I can see this beautifully applied with the periodic table and atomic structure.)
- Encourage access to resources assisting with organizational skills.
- Avoid double meanings or sarcasm.
- Use computer to solve issues with poor/illegible handwriting.
- Suggest ways to interpret students’ preoccupations into course. This may be creative fun for the whole class. I used a student’s love of the BBC television show, Dr. Who with my science course and that went very well.
- Use Accommodations’ for exams, especially when essay writing is involved. Extended time is sometimes needed on language based assessments.
- A person may experience sensory challenges (sights, smells, sounds and lighting) in class. Be sensitive to this. Ask about lighting. Lights can be dimmed or seating can be changed to minimize issues. I have read that fluorescent lighting can be disturbing to some people. We use lamps in our office too.
- Be literal, clear, & direct.
- Because handwriting can be a challenge, a note taker can be useful. Supply notes on Blackboard or allow audio tape recording.
- As an instructor, try not to get frustrated. The student wants to be there and wants to learn. “Autism is not a motivational disorder” – OAR.
- Managing time and taking good lecture notes can be challenging. Help students to access the best resources to help develop those skills. Provide your own suggestions for structuring notes.
- The quiet Library can be a safe haven. Make sure the student knows about this environment and the resources that are present there.
- It is the responsibility of the student to know what they need. They should develop a plan with the Accommodations Office. If you suspect that a person needs this office’s assistance, help them to get there.
- Peer support can be powerful. Helping the student to link with peers overcoming similar obstacles can help a student to navigate college/academics and reach goals. Does NWTC have support structured support groups for people dealing with autism?
- Let the student leave the classroom or lab if necessary. Allow them to re-enter after a few moments of “recalibration”.Resources:
UW-Madison – Waisman Center
Fictional book about a family struggle with autism: House Rules by Jodi Picoult