By: Shelby Blossom-Ferguson, M.S., CF-SLP
Some people have never experienced the struggles children with autism deal with every day. Imagine being in a room with bright lights, people yelling, and a loud fan. It would be very tough to focus and listen to each task presented, directions given, or even the person sitting next to you talk. Sensory awareness in people with autism is sometimes over-reactive or under-reactive. Characteristics of children with an over-reactive sensory awareness include: becoming easily frustrated, difficulty focusing, tantrums when changing routines, having a high tolerance or indifference towards pain, difficulty understanding personal space, and constantly touching people or textures.
Most parents and teachers are unsure of how to help these children cope. Some deficits that are common with children in the classroom are social deficits, communication deficits, learning deficits, and behavioral deficits.
*Social deficits include: preferring to play alone, difficulty with forming relationships, and difficulty understanding social rules in all settings.
*Communication deficits include: lack of understanding non-verbal communication, verbally expressing themselves, requesting help, and following verbal commands
*Learning deficits include: problem solving difficulties, lack of organizational skills, and overgeneralizing (e.g., calling all dogs “Max” because their dog’s name is Max).
*Behavioral deficits include: difficulty with transitions, becoming easily frustrated, self-monitoring, repetitive mannerisms (e.g., repeatedly turning on and off the lights, making noises, etc.), and pre-occupations with certain routines or objects (e.g., lining up toys, high interest in trains, etc.).
It is normal to feel overwhelmed when your child exhibits one or more of the deficits described above. However, here are some tips to help make the classroom or home environment calmer and allow the child to feel more understood:
*Provide a simple visual schedule, such as a picture exchange program (i.e., if your child has difficulty getting ready for school in the morning, give him/her pictures of brushing teeth, getting dressed, eating breakfast, putting on their backpack, etc.)
*Use fewer words when giving directions (i.e., “Sit on chair” instead of “Get off the table and sit your bottom on the chair”)
*Decrease distractions during a structured task (e.g., find a spot in the classroom or home that is the child’s “work space” and is free of a TV, radio, or computer)
*Provide a token reward system (i.e., giving stickers for a good transition to school/home)
It is also very important to educate other teachers that may be in and out of the classroom as well as classmates. Students in the classroom may not understand why “Johnny” is throwing a tantrum during circle time. Helping other classmates assist in providing a calmer, more “autism friendly” classroom is key for all involved. Furthermore, helping “Johnny” become more aware of the surroundings and people in the classroom. The teacher or whomever is in charge should use descriptive words, gestures, and provide examples when addressing the class to help in understanding.
Here are some helpful websites for parents and teachers: