By Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer & Chief Marketing Officer, Curriki
April is World Autism Month, an excellent time to raise awareness about this common disorder that affects children’s normal development of social and communication skills.
Since 1 in 68 people in the United States is diagnosed with autism (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), teachers are very likely to have autistic students in their classes, and need to learn to understand them and tune into their needs to optimize their success.
The autism spectrum is very wide, so support and variations also vary. Students range from being severely challenged, non-verbal and uncommunicative, all the way up to being gifted but with communications and sensory challenges. Many autistics also have anxiety, ADHD or other neurological conditions.
One autistic might be obsessed by a particular subject; another might flap her arms when she gets excited; another might crawl under a couch to escape sensory overload in a classroom; another may have prolonged screaming fits. One child may be uncommunicative and withdrawn, and another hyper-verbal and intense. But all are autistic!
A common expression in the autistic community is, if you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.
For teachers, this can present a huge challenge. How do you provide support for such a varied population? Where do you even start?
Here are some resources to help you determine how best to serve the autistic students in your school.
Autism Self-Advocacy Network
The Autism Self-Advocacy Network (ASN) is a nonprofit organization run by and for Autistic people to serve as a national grassroots disability rights organization for the Autistic community. ASN says that while each autistic person is unique, they all share some characteristics:
- Different sensory experiences, such as heightened sensitivity to light, difficulty interpreting internal physical sensations, hearing loud sounds as soft and soft sounds as loud, or synesthesia.
- Non-standard ways of learning and approaching problem solving
- Deeply focused thinking and passionate interests in specific subjects.
- Atypical, sometimes repetitive, movement, difficulties with motor skills and motor planning associated with apraxia or dyspraxia.
- Need for consistency, routine and order.
- Difficulties in understanding and expressing language as used in typical communication, both verbal and non-verbal.
- Difficulties in understanding and expressing typical social interaction.
The Autism Society
The Autism Society website is a great tool for gathering more information about academic supports, assistive technology, camps and recreation, early intervention, related services, research, respite services, training, state key resources, and state data and statistics.
It offers a list of symptoms to watch for in children, including:
- Lack of or delay in spoken language
- Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)
- Little or no eye contact
- Lack of interest in peer relationships
- Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play
- Persistent fixation on parts of objects
Autism Speaks, best known for its “Light It Up Blue” autism awareness campaign, is dedicated to promoting solutions, across the spectrum and throughout the lifespan, for the needs of individuals with autism and their families through advocacy and support. It also seeks to increase understanding and acceptance of autism spectrum disorder; and advance research into causes and better interventions.
However, after the White House lit it up blue earlier in this month, Mother Jones magazine published an article questioning whether that was a good thing, saying, “Self-advocates argue, their disability is not something that needs to be cured, but a vital aspect of who they are. Many consider autism and other neurological differences such as ADHD part of normal human variation; given this neurodiversity, they argue, autistic people should be accommodated and supported in society, not cured.”
Curriki’s Autism Resources
Take advantage of the knowledge of your peers! A number of Curriki members have uploaded useful autism resources for teachers to our website.
- Lorna Luxemburger has created an Autism Spectrum Disorder Presentation site on Curriki.
- Victoria Huey offers a list of ways to support people with autism.
- She also has created Understanding Autism: A guide for Secondary Teachers.
- April Riley Tate provides Mathematics Interventions for Students with High Functioning Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome.
- Stephanie Trevitz offers autism resources and Information, including the use of pets to help children with autism, and info on why they are often inflexible.
Find many more Curriki autism resources here.
Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer & Chief Marketing Officer, leads and manages all of Curriki’s content development, user experience, and academic direction. Learn more at Curriki.org.