5 Things Families Want You to Know About Teaching Their Child with Autism

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As an autism parent, have you ever wished that your child’s teacher knew more about autism? Or as a teacher, did you wish you knew about your students with autism? Here is the post for both of you! This is definitely coming from a non-judgmental zone and more from a “wish I/you knew” perspective as a way to clear up misconceptions and promote communication between families and teachers. You can use this list to start a conversation between home and school.

1 | Autism is a spectrum.

No joke – now (as of after 2015) the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) refers to the autism diagnosis as autism spectrum disorder. That old saying of “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve only met one person with autism,” is very real. If you have questions about how autism is different, especially as it relates to your student, ask the family. Nothing make parents feel more comfortable and safe about sending their child with autism to school than your willingness to learn about your students.


2 | Routine and transition warnings are key.

We all know that flexibility is an important life skill and one we all need to work on, most individuals on the autism spectrum do not handle surprises or big changes in their routine all too well. A substitute teacher, fire drill, or a field trip could all cause anxiety. Providing a warning (five-minute, two-minute, and “time up”) and clear instructions beforehand will help reduce your student’s anxiety. A visual schedule would also be a helpful tool, as well as, giving time to process are needed.


3 | [speaking of processing] Your students will need extra time to process language.

Here a few strategies you can use to practice giving your students processing time:

(1) Use simple language and short sentences; (2) Give no more than two-step instructions; and (3) Give at least 3 full seconds after you make a statement or ask a question to respond.

If you choose to repeat, make sure to repeat the same phrase. If you rephrase, then some students will need to start processing the new phrase again. Also, no need to hurry, because, this will only slow things down further if you rush your student. You may need to remind your student with autism that it’s okay to need processing time. Some students tend to feel bad about themselves for needing this time.


4| Receptive and expressive language are very different.

Your student with autism may understand much more than you think they do. Although they may speak in short phrases or words, they may understand what you’re saying around them, especially if it’s about them.

For receptive and expressive language, it is difficult to know what exactly your student really knows and needs to learn. For example, they may quote long, complicated phrases or paragraphs from movies, but may not necessarily understand the meaning of it or any of the words.

Also, your students with autism need a communication device if they use a lot of nonverbal language. It’s a myth that using a communication device will restrict speaking and other future expressive language.


5| There are many reasons for stereotypic behaviors or repetitive behaviors.

This includes when your student is feeling excited, bored, or stressed. You can provide redirection as needed, but also pay attention to patterns of behavior that appear most often when your student is feeling stressed. Stressful triggers can include a variety of stimuli, including those we’re not aware of or notice as displeasing (e.g., eating sounds) - make sure to check in with parents about these and what they typically do for proactive or coping strategies.

So there we have it! Just a few of the main things I’ve heard parents say that they wish teachers knew about their child with autism and about autism in general, as well as what teachers wish they knew more about.

I know this isn’t even close to being an exhaustive list - so what are some things you think I missed? What are some things you as a parent wish your child’s teacher knew more about? What are some things you as a teacher wish you knew more about?