Social skills are perhaps the most difficult area for any child with autism. Even the ones who are really high functioning are often diagnosed as having autism because this is the one defining trait across the spectrum that does not change. Unfortunately for most parents, it is also the most difficult to teach.
Because children with autism frequently avoid eye contact, they miss the little nonverbal cues that would otherwise help them clue in on what the other person is feeling and saying. To teach them about facial expressions, parents and teachers can use a series of flash cards that show emotions on cartoon faces. As the child becomes more able to distinguish between the facial expressions, actual pictures of people with the same facial expressions are used instead. Finally, parents and teachers can move on to showing the autistic child pictures of peers and family with facial expressions. All the while, they will hold the pictures closer and closer to their own faces when they ask the question, “Is this a happy face? A mad face? A sad face?” etc. The final transition then, is an easy one. The child is then asked to look directly at the parent’s or teacher’s face when asked a question.
There are also other techniques for helping the autistic child better understand his or her peers. Special needs teachers often incorporate situational stories into the child’s day. These are set up to examine possible scenarios on the playground prior to going out for recess, special events out of the routine norm for the school day, and any other time where it might be necessary for a child to “think ahead” about what might happen and how he or she should handle it if it does occur. It’s a preparatory move that helps the child with autism be less anxious and more comfortable in settings involving their non-autistic peers.
Empathy is the hardest thing to teach any child, and much more so with a child with autism because his or her entire world is encased in his/herself. Perhaps the only thing that can be done in these situations is to take “the teachable moment” and use it for good. What that means is that, when the child with autism has hurt someone or witnesses someone else getting hurt, the adult quickly steps in and asks them some very pointed questions.
“How do you think that person feels right now?” “Do you think they are sad because something hurts?” “What would you want someone to do for you if you were hurt?” “What makes hurts and owies feel better?”
Repeatedly using this technique every time an adult possibly can helps the child with autism become better acquainted with how others feel. It can be used with children who don’t have autism too. However, as is the case with every technique, repetition and consistency most definitely is key. Stopping and starting or not having every adult in that child’s life use the same techniques just upsets the child and causes other adults to quit following the strategies that can really make a difference in the child’s social skills.
Read “Adaptations in Autism: Social Skill Development and Stimming” and “20 Best Social Games for Children With Autism, Aspergers, ADHD“
We live in a day and an age where most teachers who are churned out of the colleges and universities have been taught how to perceive children with special needs as they are mainstreamed into the classrooms. The teachers are required to take sensitivity training as part of their jobs. They learn how to deal with challenging behaviors and manage the stress they feel in their line of work. There isn’t a teacher left hardly anywhere anymore that hasn’t had some sort of training in any of the above.
Yet, we often hear about teachers who have abused their students or who have just made it unbearable for “those kids” to be in their classrooms. The really shocking cases include teachers who are special education teachers and teachers who have children at home themselves. No one is ever quite certain why these teachers have chosen to act this way towards their special needs students, and when there is an explanation, it’s so simple it’s outrageous.
Chances are, your son or daughter doesn’t have a really horrid teacher like this and in fact, has a really wonderful, caring, warm and patient teacher. If there’s any problems at all, there are probably ways to work it out and the teacher is probably just frustrated with trying to figure out your child. (Think about how you feel as a parent some days; at least you know your own child and you know what works and what doesn’t!)
If you are facing some challenges with a general education teacher, here are some tips on how to work things out.
- Ask her how things are going in the classroom. Usually an IEP is in place for a child with autism, but as children grow, they sometimes drop one bad behavior to pick up another. The teacher is a direct link to how your child is behaving at school all day, five days a week. If she seems hesitant or expresses concern, talk about it. Share with her what you do with your child at home that works. Work out some other possible ways to deter your child’s behavior with her that will relieve her anxiety and pressure to do a good job.
- She’s stressed. What teacher isn’t? Let her know that you don’t hold HER accountable if your child is acting up or acting out. She is trained to handle these things and is probably doing the best she can, but may be worried that you are a parent who is going to give her a hard time if your child decides to hit, spit, bite or kick and ends up getting hurt in the process. Most teachers like to know that parents aren’t going to string them up when they aren’t perfect.
- If the general education teacher asks for a meeting with you, keep it. Keep it touch via email. Most teachers are allowed to check their school email accounts and phone messages so that they are ready for changes in any one of their pupils’ schedules that day. As a parent, drop an email when you think your child might be crabby, not feeling well, etc. They will probably write back and they are happy to know they aren’t bugging you if they need to speak to you.
The biggest thing to remember is that teachers have a really tough job. Most classrooms have at least twenty-five to thirty-five students all the time. They have to keep all those kids in line, teach them everything they are supposed to learn at that grade level, do their own lesson plans and keep up with changes in the classrooms and on top of that, your child is just one of the special needs kids mainstreamed in their room. Look at things from their point of view and always offer to help. It really makes a difference.
“ARD, IEP, and BIP – Special Education and Your Child”
“Encountering Other Mothers With Autistic Kids”
“Questions to Ask When Picking a Best School For Your Autistic Child“
Having a child with autism means that he or she will require special services when they attend school. In some states, an ARD, or Admission, Review and Dismissal is conducted prior to the child’s first year of school and in advance to their needs being addressed in an IEP. With an ARD, the parents sign paperwork for admission of their child to a special needs program in the school. The teachers and staff who will be working with the child test and review the child’s needs and delays. If the child is deemed as high functioning enough not to need support they are dismissed and spend their time in a mainstream classroom. Because of the very nature of autistic disorders, it is very rare that they would be dismissed during this phase of seeking out supportive services.
The next step, or perhaps the step every state takes to support children with special needs, is the IEP, or individualized education plan. This is a formal write up of all the areas where the child is having difficulty and the goals that will be worked on in the mainstream classroom as well as the special needs classroom. The child may also have several hours of speech, physical, occupational and mental/ emotional therapy in other rooms in the school. The expected duration, if any, of the child’s daily time in the mainstream classroom is listed and is required by law to be listed.
As the child spends the year working on these goals, progress is well-documented. At intervals and at parent teacher conferences, the child’s progress is discussed. They may or may not meet or exceed all of their goals during the course of the year, in which case a new IEP is drawn up for the following school year. Most IEP’s attempt to follow what a child would be expected or able to do if he or she were not a special needs child, with some moderate adaptations.
The BIP, or behavior intervention plan, is developed after the child has spent some time in a mainstream classroom. It’s here where the child with autism will have the most difficulty because of the interactions with others, the length of time spent in a classroom, and the added stimulation all around him or her. Fatigue and frustration are constantly at the center of most autistic outbursts, and the BIP helps parents and teachers work together to better manage the behaviors, the environment and the triggers for the child’s behavior. Since the child has probably only attended a pre-k or special needs intervention program prior to kindergarten, little is known how they might react to full days of school in a regular classroom, which is why the BIP might not be on the table for discussion until after the child has been in school and has had a few behavioral issues first. Some high functioning children with autism may only need a BIP until they have gained some self-regulation skills, and then it’s discontinued. BIP’s may be revisited if the child with autism experiences an uptick in behaviors again later on.
“Why Is Autism Considered A Spectrum Disorder?”