To work with and teach children with autism not only requires a great deal of patience, but also a degree in special education. Since the majority of kids with autism are mainstreamed in regular classrooms unless they are nonverbal, most of the verbal kids with autism work with a paraprofessional in the classroom when the head teacher is working to teach a topic or working with a small group. Depending on the number of special needs children in the mainstream classroom, the number of “parapros” are added to the room. They are allowed to help any of the students in the room, but primarily are there to assist with any special needs situations.
As for the nonverbal students who have autism, they attend the special needs classroom for x number of hours, and maybe an hour or two mainstreamed depending on what their IEP goals are. Special needs teachers are trained to handle all of the situations that may arise with multiple special needs diagnoses. They also have the capacity and connections to multiple toys and devices that help children with autism learn and express themselves, even if they can’t speak.
Children with autism learn like most, through repetition. Once an autistic child demonstrates the lesson without any prompts, the lesson is considered learned, and the teacher moves on, adding to the lesson that has been learned. Baby steps or more advanced lessons are taught, depending on each child’s ability to learn, retain, and demonstrate the knowledge gained. Because many children with autism have exceptional memories, the problem with learning usually isn’t retention; it’s comprehension and/or demonstration. They also have a tendency to learn some school topics easier than others; children might readily absorb math, reading and/or science but be lost with spelling, comprehension, writing, etc.
All of this is addressed in the annual or biannual meeting that involves the parents of the child, the teachers, and any additional special service teachers the child sees during the week. At this meeting the Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, is discussed at length. Goals are developed based on the expectations of what the child is expected to know and understand by a particular grade in school or developmental age. The goals can’t be developed without a parent’s guidance because only a parent can reveal what the child is like outside of the school and what issues need to be addressed, if any.
The special needs teacher takes notes on what the parents and every other member of the scholastic team has to say and develops and IEP with clearly outlined goals and the expectations and strategies that will be carried out to meet those goals. Everyone gets a copy of this IEP once it’s typed out and checked for errors and professional tone. When everyone is “on board” with the plan, the child with autism can succeed better than a few teachers alone.
Behavior modification programs are often developed as well to teach address expected social behavior to the child with autism. Instruments of positive reinforcement are used when the child does what is expected, and punishments that apply to a negative behavior are in place to help deter that behavior in the future. Careful observation of the child’s behavior helps in deciding how to approach this plan of action.
Additional careers in teaching and working with kids with autism include an autism therapist, who works for and under the guidance of a psychologist/ applied behavior analyst. In this career, the therapist sees a number of children in the course of a week, spending up to three hours at a time with each child and each visit. Most families need the additional support because their children are behind their peers academically, physically, or in some other capacity. The services are often applied for through the county and state program levels that then approve the number of hours of therapy each child is entitled to receive. The county pays the psychologist or applied behavior analyst and the team of therapists that work with the children. Most of the activities help the children with whatever areas of development and skills they are behind in.
No formal education is required, but if the potential therapist has experience with special needs kids or adults, and/ or a teaching degree or psych degree of some sort, they are qualified enough to be hired. Again, they have to be the right type of person to work with children with autism, and that requires a lot of patience.