Autism in the classroom. A teachers experience
17 Mar 2023
A teachers perspective of autism in the classroom is an interesting read for parents and teachers.
As a teacher, it was always upsetting working with a child who was clearly on the autistic spectrum but whose needs had yet to be met. It was as if they were swimming in an alien environment with a limited understanding of how to navigate.
When I trained other teachers, I encouraged them to enter the room from the perspective of a child with autism. I asked them to spot every picture on the wall and take in all the details on the board. I would point out every noise and distraction to them. Then, as young people walked at them from every direction, some brushing against an arm or dodging at the last minute, I asked them to try to keep a spatial distance of one or two metres.
The levels of anxiety that the trainee teachers expressed are likely nothing compared to the young person who has no control of when they come and go from the room.
Entering and staying in a classroom is only the first hurdle you see an autistic child overcome. Learning often involves following multiple instructions issued at the same time. It also involves social interaction and collaboration with other children. Any outward show of anxiety from the young person might be perceived as a disruption, and any strategy they receive to ease their stress is seen as special treatment.
Even the superpower of the autistic child becomes a challenge in the classroom. Hyperfocus allows these young people to concentrate on a single activity for hours if that topic has triggered interest in them. The classroom and the school is designed to move activities every eight to ten minutes.
Learning to teach an individual with autism is about getting to know the child, as it is with any young person in your room. The autistic label, even when attributed, doesn’t give you an instruction manual. Your role as the young person’s teacher is to work out what works for them.
One young person that I taught needed me to shape individual projects for her to do at my desk while the rest of the class followed my lesson. She was able to recall the lesson I taught and the work she did on the project.
For another young man, he needed to be sat by the door with his back to the wall, sideways to the table. He needed all the lesson instructions on a sheet of paper, and the teaching assistant would point to the part of the lesson when he looked uncomfortable.
When you can direct the young person’s approach to the world towards the act of learning, the autistic child can flourish. The challenge for the teacher is to solve the unique puzzle they present in the classroom