The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that about one in 68 children has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. This group of developmental disabilities can cause social, behavioral, and communication issues. While the exact signs of autism vary, this could mean having trouble relating to others, difficulty adapting to routine changes, showing obsessive interest in certain topics, repeating actions and phrases, and avoiding physical contact.
Because the needs of autistic children are so varied, teachers who have these students in their classrooms face unique challenges.
Finding the right method to support autistic children
Every school and teacher has its own method for teaching children with autism—and these methods can vary from student to student. However, most teachers tend to draw inspiration from a few common instructional methods.
Applied behavior analysis (ABA), for instance, is widely used to help autistic children either increase or decrease a specific behavior. Exactly what ABA looks like in the classroom depends on the student and the situation, but it typically begins with breaking larger tasks down into smaller steps. Students may initially conduct these tasks in a quiet, less chaotic environment, but will eventually need to master each skill independently, regardless of the location or scenario. From there, relying on reinforcement and repetition, teachers using ABA take a data-driven approach to analyzing the outcomes.
For autistic students who struggle with communication specifically, some teachers use the basic techniques of ABA in a newer instructional method called Verbal Behavior Therapy (VBT). Relying on the theories of behaviorist B.F. Skinner, VBT aims to show students how language can be used to achieve their goals. This, in turn, helps students not only learn to use language, but to understand why they should rely on language.
Still, while teachers should look to instructional methods like ABT and VBT to guide them, they must keep in mind that each autistic student needs a different type of support to have a successful academic career.
“There is no one-size-fits-all strategy because each autistic child is different,” psychology and autism researcher Glenys Jones told The Guardian.
Advancing their skills
Many teachers are heading back to the classroom to gain the skills and knowledge they need to help their autistic students reach their full potential. This could involve earning a Master of Education in a subject like curriculum and instruction: autism studies. In this autism degree program, teachers learn how to educate diverse students, how to solve legal and ethical issues, and how to use positive behavioral support to assist autistic children.
Additionally, teachers also have the option of earning an autism certificate. Those who already have a bachelor’s degree, for example, can hone their skills with a behavioral management in autism graduate certificate. This program will give teachers a better understanding of behavioral intervention, management strategies in applied behavioral intervention, and the functional analysis of difficult behavior. Others can improve their skills with a graduate certificate in behavioral intervention in autism. This certificate program will give teachers more insight into topics like treating challenging behavior, offering positive behavioral support, and using measurement and experimental design.
No matter how they choose to advance their skills, it’s important for teachers to keep learning—particularly when supporting students with autism.