A GUIDE FOR TEACHERS OF AUTISTIC STUDENTS
I wrote this guide a while back, for an autistic group, it's recently occurred to me that many others might find it helpful. Feel free to print it out and/or share it online (with acknowledgements and/or a link to here please!) wherever you think it might be useful.
1) Don’t expect us to be Neurotypical, or ‘normal’. Autism is fixed at the genetic and neurological level, we can no more change it than we can fly. Pressure to be ‘normal’, even if superficially successful, only causes us stress.
2) Presume intelligence. Difficulties with social interaction, verbalisation, auditory processing, information processing and sensory overloads can sometimes lead others to think we are ‘stupid’. We aren’t.
3) Consider our sensory needs. Most of us have very acute senses, meaning things like fluorescent lights, glare, strong smells, and noisy classrooms can cause us huge stress, hindering learning and possibly even leading to meltdowns. Even small accommodations, such as allowing us to wear caps and sunglasses inside, can help.
4) Don’t force eye contact. In autistics, lack of eye contact is not a sign of dishonesty. Many of us simply find eye contact painful, invasive or simply irrelevant. Also some find it difficult to look at someone and listen to them at the same time.
5) Accept that our body language and emotions are different. Many of our emotions don’t seem to ‘reach the surface’ very well, and when they do, are not likely to be the ones considered appropriate or correct, or correctly expressed. This doesn’t mean we don’t have any feelings, simply that we have different ones.
6) Accept that we don’t mean to be rude. We lack any instinctive understanding of social rules, and so inadvertently trespass them. If we are disruptive, it’s best to quietly take us aside, and tell us the rules explicitly. It’s also good to tell us when we do something right, so we can add it to our social ‘repertoire’.
7) Keep change and disruption to schedules to a minimum. We don’t cope well with sudden changes and lots of disruptions. Give us as much advance notice as possible of changes, including transitions from one lesson activity to another.
8) Isolate our meltdowns. Meltdowns are NOT tantrums, but a sign that we are stressed to the point of overload. It’s best to get us as fast as possible to a quiet, isolated, dimly-lit space – and leave us there till we calm down. DO NOT TALK to us during or just after the meltdown, it will just make things worse.
9) Avoid slang, or explain it. We are very literal thinkers, and if we don’t know expressions, can be confused by them. If you tell us to ‘hop to it’, we probably will! This is sometimes assumed to be ‘cheeky’ behaviour. It isn’t.
10) Focus on our strengths, not our weaknesses. We may be lacking in social skills, but are often very good at other things (and no, it’s not always computers!). Our ‘special interests’ can often be used to aid and focus learning. Moreover, a positive attitude on the behalf of the teacher can reduce the chances of us being bullied.
by Penni Winter