Teaching Students with Autism

Excerpt from Chapter 6
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From Chapter 6: Behavior

Some simple guidelines that will help you set the conditions for appropriate behavior in your classroom are:

  • All children need to be actively engaged. This means they must have meaningful and slightly challenging tasks to keep them occupied at all times. Downtime for children with autism often results in incidents of stereotypic behavior and/or self-stimulatory behavior. It is difficult to “bring them back” once they are engaged in these activities, often resulting in more aggressive or challenging behaviors occurring. Resources for designing meaningful activities can be found in Tony Flowers’ book “Pre-Skill Activities for Children with Autism” and Carol Kranowitz’ books “The Out of Sync Child” and “The Out of Sync Child has Fun.” These books are listed in the reference section.


  • The classroom should be set up to provide visual behavioral cues and expectations. The room should support following a schedule, doing tasks independently, moving independently from one activity to the next and maintaining appropriate behavior. If the environment does not support what you expect, your plan to make students independent will fail. Visual picture or written cues, the lay out of the room, how materials are stored, how pathways to and from significant areas in the room are set up, all can have an impact on the student’s behavior.

  • Teaching use of visuals and other communicative clues is key; your first priority should be to make students as independent in the communication system and the use of visual cues as possible. Create an environment in your classroom where you can safely reduce the amount of support and supervision provided for students to complete tasks and start fading support quickly. Encourage students to try to do things themselves and support their attempts with the least amount of guidance possible.

  • Always be aware that teaching students to be independent is much harder than doing the task for them, at least initially. It is time consuming and labor intensive to wait out a tantrum when you are teaching a student to communicate, but it has a great pay off in the end. Remember that these students will grow up and get bigger and even more resistant. Teaching skills now will benefit them and their parents and teachers in the future. Non-compliance from a two-year-old may be considered cute, but it quickly loses its charm at five years or eight years.


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