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COVID-19 has led to a new way of rethinking all aspects of our daily lives. For many of us, it has meant huge shifts in our physical, social, mental, and emotional health. Organizations and corporations have had to reconsider what productive and efficient work can look like, while schools have had to reimagine learning in the virtual world. For schools, this switch to mostly remote learning presents more opportunities for students to engage in technology and various social platforms like chat rooms and social media. This also presents more opportunities for students to engage in or be affected by cyberbullying.
So much of a students’ understanding of language development and positive social skill development can come from the experiences students have while reading. Language development and social communication are areas that can be more challenging skillsets to develop for students with autism, thereby affecting their reading comprehension and fluency abilities (Teaching Exceptional Thinkers, n.d.). Sight word instruction provides a tool that can support students with autism as they learn to read by recognizing whole words quickly, rather than sounding them out.
As schools around the world prepare for learning to continue in the fall, educators and service providers are wondering how to best tackle the possibility or reality of virtual learning for the foreseeable future. Many educators are concerned about the steep learning curve that comes with teletherapy and wonder how they might most effectively reach their students. For special education teachers and therapists for students with autism, teletherapy presents a unique challenge as many learning platforms are only geared towards typically developing students.
In K-12 education, there is no dispute that developing reading skills is fundamental. In fact, research suggests that early literacy instruction for students with and without disabilities is essential for future literacy development3. Teachers across the world are constantly utilizing various strategies to support students’ reading comprehension and decoding skills. For some, typical decoding and comprehension strategies may be fairly accessible. For others, reading comprehension or decoding may prove to be more difficult. Students with autism typically have challenges related to reading comprehension, such as answering questions or expressing ideas in traditional ways.
Picture books are a widely used resource in classrooms and homes around the world. Picture books support vocabulary development, story analysis skills, and sentence structure skills1. In addition to building language skills, picture books offer opportunities for children to understand what they are reading through illustrations while supporting engagement and encouraging imagination and creativity. For children with autism, picture books are especially helpful as many children with autism are very literal and visual learners.
For children with autism, communication can be a challenging skill to develop. Children with autism often have difficulties with expressive and receptive language, thus impacting their ability to effectively communicate within their environment, ask for what they want and need, argue their point of view, and engage in successful interactions1. Expressive language development is key for children with autism, as support in this area allows them to use words, gestures, sentences, and writing to express meaning and give messages to others1.
Beginning at a young age, many children with autism can find it difficult to relate to and communicate with other people, and thus may have significant difficulty in expressive and receptive language (Simpson, Keen, & Lamb, 2015). Difficulties in language development can impact later functional outcomes, such as maintaining successful relationships and communicating wants and needs effectively. For students with autism, receptive language development is extremely important, as support in this area allows them to understand other’s requests and the surrounding environment. Thus, early intervention to support language development in young children with autism is necessary.
Recognizing and understanding emotions is a key part of development. Emotional awareness allows individuals to identify what they are feeling and why. This is a critical step towards building emotional intelligence, a key skill in life. Being able to identify our emotions and understand why we are feeling the way we are allows us to clearly communicate and helps us build relationships with other, thus supporting our social development.
Art therapy provides many benefits for children with autism because it promotes emotional and mental growth as well as independence and collaboration skills. As an outlet for self-expression, imagination, and creativity, art can contribute deeply to improving a child’s fine motor skills, visual and spatial discrepancies, and coping (ActToday.org) For children with autism, art therapy can be particularly effective, especially because many are strong visual learners and process information differently from their typically developing peers.
Note: These 5 activities can be done every day, and we recommend that parents create a schedule so that each of these activities takes place at the same time very day when possible. Having a schedule helps keep children with autism feel more secure and reduces anxiety. We also recommend posting a picture schedule (or words if your child can read so that they know what to expect each day.
Socialization is an important skill for all children to learn and develop. Research suggests that by supporting a child’s socialization, children are more likely to develop self-confidence, problem solving skills, and key language skills, all of which are vital skills that they will use throughout their lives1. Moreover, socialization can increase the likelihood of many positive outcomes for children, such as becoming more active participants in their communities, increased happiness, and friendship development2. However, many children with autism have difficulty interacting with others, thereby impeding their socialization skill development. Social skills such as initiating conversations with others, playing a game with their peers, sharing, or taking turns can be challenging and overwhelming for children with autism.
Far too often, society’s bias towards students with autism focuses on the autism, rather than the whole child. Students with autism are more often perceived as “lacking” in some area, rather than celebrated for the many strengths they have. Recent research and new directions in education has pointed out the flaws in this deficit-based thinking, advocating for more strengths-based approaches to supporting students with autism.
Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and whole child development, often used synonymously, have huge implications for children of all ages. Described as the process of developing the knowledge, mindsets, and behaviors needed to manage and express emotions, interact positively with others, make responsible decisions, and set and achieve goals, SEL has become one of the primary topics of discussion in education. Policymakers and practitioners increasingly recognize SEL as an essential, though often lacking, component of formal schooling. As interest in SEL expands, new research clarifies our understanding of students’ social and emotional development and its connection to academic learning.
Playing outdoors has huge implications for all children. Many researchers cite outdoor play as being a conduit for decreased stress levels, emotional resilience, increased cognitive functioning, increased attention, as well as a host of other sensory-motor, emotional, and social benefits3.
ARIS was created with access and implementation in mind: intended to make the principles of ABA easily accessible and easy to implement for educators working with children with autism who may not have formal ABA training.
Recent research has highlighted the lack of evidence-based strategies and adequate learning programs for students with autism (Stahmer, et al., 2015). Even when teachers have access to learning programs for their students with autism, many lack consistency and effectiveness in using it. Research indidates that many classrooms vary greatly in their implementation of evidence-based practices and various learning curricula, but teachers are more likely to use instructional tools that are highly structured and when they feel supported by ongoing training for those tools (Stahmer, et al., 2015).
As a teacher, it is likely that you have either held or participated in an IEP meeting. Often times, you have likely interacted with family members who may be nervous or anxious about the process. Some parents may come in to IEP meetings feeling intimidated by the many people sitting around a table or the jargon of special education. Many parents, including parents of children with autism, have very unique and specific concerns about their child, and as a teacher, there are ways you and other school staff can facilitate IEP meetings that feel safe, respectful, collaborative, and welcoming.