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Sunday 21 September 2014

Bright Ideas- Tips for Supporting ASD students in the classroom

Do you have students in your classroom who have Autisim or who are on the "Spectrum"?  These students can be the most amazing, frustrating, challenging, fun and illuminating students you will ever teach.  For some of them just to get through the day is an amazing achievement while for others they live so far into their own world that you rarely register on their radar.

Today I wanted to share with you some of the things that have worked with my students over the years.  Keep in mind that just like every other student these students all have different needs and some of these tips may work with your ASD student and some may not.  Ok her we go!

1. Headphones

Headphones are a great way for ASD students to minimise the noise that may be a sensory overload for them.  You will know if your student has noise issues as that will usually be the child who claps his/her hands straight over the ears at any loud or unfamiliar noise.  I have several old pairs of headphones that I have cut the cord off and keep for just these occasions including on field trips.
NOTE: The ear buds are not an ideal type of headphone as they can increase the sensory overload and they also fall out easily.

2. Fiddle toys
Fiddle toys are a great way to keep little fingers occupied during quiet times in the classroom especially during mat time.  It is important for the child to pick the fiddle toy that will work best for them as texture can be a sensory issue for some children.  Some of the best toys I have seen are the wooden hand massagers, the students have something that can fit in their pocket and it is not easily broken.

Other fiddle toys that have been popular are the stretchy gel like toys although these can be stretched too far and end up breaking.  Also if your student is a chewer these are not a good option.

3. Anxiety
ASD and anxiety usually go hand in hand,  it is important to recognise the signs of anxiety in your student.  This will mean you need to have a huge conversation with the parents as they will have invaluable information to let you know what signs to look for.  Quite often these students need reassurance and positive talk to get them participating in the most minor activities.  I like to find out from my students what helps to keep them calm, sometimes it is a picture of their favorite toy, a piece of ribbon, a stress ball, listening to music, reading or chewing on something hard.

Try to make these items as accessible as possible and be on the lookout for the early signs of escalation.  I have found using the 5 point scale very helpful as well.

4. Break time!
More often you will find these kiddos need extra breaks built into their day, this can be as simple as asking them to run a message, or allowing them to walk in an area that is within view of the teacher.  For my ASD students breaks are part of their individual program, it is not always at the same time and is not always the same type of break.  A lot if it depends on the student, how high their anxiety is, what the activity is and how tired they are.  GoNoodle has been an easy way to incorporate breaks not only for my ASD students but for the others as well.

I also have a quiet area that students can go to with a timer, when the time is up they come back and engage with the activity again.  Obviously some need longer breaks or breaks more frequently, remember we are dealing with individuals.

5. The Heavy Load
One of the things I have been doing lately is using heavy work to help my students regulate their level of anxiety as well as proprioception (which is them understanding where there body is in space in relation to others)  Heavy work gives students an understanding of where there body is in space, it can include things like sweeping, shoveling/digging, pushing against a wall, pulling against another person or object, carrying heavy phone books, being squeezed in a blanket or under cushions or swinging on a swing.

I know it sounds kind of weird but believe me our days always run much smoother when our heavy work breaks are timely.

6. Love and accept them.
This can sometimes be the hardest part to get to......these students will challenge you in ways you never thought possible but we need to remember to celebrate their amazing minds.  ASD students may not show you they love you, in fact some days they may tell you straight out they hate you, the may yell and curse at you......but they do not want you to give up on them.  They are without a doubt the students who more than anything needs a team of teachers, parents and community to work with them to help them succeed and achieve, and boy when they do it is amazing!

I hope you found something to take and use in your classroom tomorrow of course this is by no means an entire list of strategies to use and I am sure I will find time to add to this list in the future.

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  1. I have a child with aspergers this year. Thank you for sharing some of your insights. I have already noticed that he needs to be up and about between tasks. Sweet boy, very literal, but is so willing to try to please.

    First Grade by the Sea

    1. Thank you so much Pauline, your comments mean a lot as a parent of an aspergers child. I can only hope that what we put in place for these kiddos helps them get through a day.

  2. This is an amazing post Tania. Thanks for posting such a comprehensive and helpful blog post.

    Emma :)