Young children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) require special attention in the classroom. To ensure these children get the help they need, it is vital that all newly trained education assistants are given a comprehensive grounding in the best practices for teaching autistic students.
ASD is commonly diagnosed between the ages of two and three years old, affecting one out of every 66 children in Canada. It is much more common in boys than girls, but the severity of the disorder can differ greatly from person to person. Around one third of people with ASD also develop an intellectual disability, so a dedicated skillset is needed to maximize the potential of these children in the classroom.
Read on for some useful insights on ASD that can help the next generation of education assistants to really make a difference in the lives of this often overlooked and underestimated demographic.
Autism can be Caused by Genetic and Non-Genetic Factors
ASD is an umbrella term that includes autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger’s Syndrome. These disorders are categorized across the spectrum, and some present milder symptoms than others.
There is no one root cause of autism, and it is believed to stem from both genetic and non-genetic factors. It takes effect during early brain development by altering how neurons communicate. Parents who have children later in life and extreme premature birth are considered risk factors for the onset of ASD.
The symptoms of ASD include difficulty developing social and communication skills. These boys and girls may avoid making eye contact, repeat words or phrases, and feel more comfortable on their own. Graduates of an education assistant training course will be notified when a child with autism is attending their workplace, because they will require specialized attention in the classroom.
Individual Support for ASD Students after Education Assistant Training
Children with ASD may not understand and follow instructions as easily as others, and it is often a good idea to write them out so they can have them at all times. You may also have to address them individually if you are failing to grab their attention, because they may otherwise think they’re not being spoken to. You should also keep language simple when speaking to children with ASD, and avoid using any jargon or sarcasm that they might find confusing.
Technology is a particularly worthwhile asset in this scenario, too. Children can experience difficulties with handwriting, so assess whether it’s possible for them to complete schoolwork on a laptop or tablet instead. Children with ASD may also work better if they are sometimes given a quiet space to finish their assignments.
Additionally, many young learners on the autism spectrum will often display more interest in specific topics than others, or be far more adept at certain subjects, such as mathematics or science, than they are in other areas. Tailor your teaching to their strengths and weaknesses, and try and find out what their interests are and see if it is possible to work them into their lessons. Overcoming these educational challenges and seeing the child thrive provides a sense of immense satisfaction for professionals, the child, and their parents.
How to Improve the Social Behaviour of Young People with ASD
Another common symptom of children with ASD is an inability to understand the feelings of others. This presents additional challenges for students in education assistant training, so be aware that you also have an important role in developing the social skills of these boys and girls.
This could mean reiterating to them the importance of staying in line in the canteen queue or staying quiet while other children are talking. Children on the spectrum can often feel uneasy in large crowds or noisy environments, too, and may require additional attention in the schoolyard or when walking to and from classes in busy corridors.
KLC’s educational assistant course focuses on developing the necessary ASD teaching skills.
Find out more about our comprehensive 37-week program.