Flexibility in the classroom
To provide flexibility within the classroom and the teaching strategies utilised, whilst meeting the learning needs of the students, is a challenge for all teachers due to the diversity of ability, interest, motivation and levels of empowerment of the students, including those with autism, thus the inclusive approach.
Estrada put it as, “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” Inclusive teaching does not dilute the standard expected, moreover it is an adaptation of interaction that recognises, evaluates and accommodates the diversity of abilities, cultural backgrounds, and learning styles and needs. This approach acknowledges that all students within the class may learn differently, but are not less academically capable.
- Respect Individuality, “one size does not fit all”
Each child in your class comes with his or her own set of skills and strengths. As a class team, it is important to recognise the skill set and provide proactive strategies that will allow the child to develop appropriately.
- Create the positive “can do” environment, where children are ready to learn as they are aware that the necessary supports are provided. Rosenthal and Jacobsen (1968) “one person’s expectation for another person’s behaviour (sic) can quite unwittingly become a more accurate prediction simply for its having been made” (p. vii).
- Assess the child’s Zone of Actual Development, ZAD, Vygotsky (1896 – 1934)
- Differentiate the content, Use the Goldilocks Principle, which means providing the activity in a format that is not too easy, not too hard, but just right! Students must see the task as achievable but nor too easy as not to challenge.
Many children with autism will find it difficult to re-visit previously learned and taught activities, if you have taught it and they have learned it – why do we need to go back over it?
- Use the reinforcers and motivators of the students – whatever helps the child learn best
- Back strategies up with visual supports, a structured environment, work stations, IEP SMART Targets.
- Ensure that the focus is on what the child can do with support
- Scaffold the child’s learning as the “more knowledgeable other”, Vygotsky, yet remaining cognisant of the child’s Zone of proximal Development (ZPD, Vygotsky) defined as, “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978, p86).
- Scaffolding is a child-centred approach that give ownership of the learning to the child. It allows the child to grasp learning in smaller, sequential, manageable chunks, without the child becoming frustrated, anxious or overwhelmed. The child builds on previously attained knowledge and expertise to find assimilation and accommodation with the concept being taught.
- Inclusive teaching practices encourage the use of multiple strategies for delivering information and providing multiple ways for students to demonstrate the knowledge they have acquired. Give specific and individual feedback, students with autism need to know that you are speaking to them. For example, the child with autism may not answer your question, “Class, does everyone understand that?” With the child’s literal interpretation of language, he or she is not class. This would also encourage teachers to use the child’s name before socially engaging, that way the child does not have to decipher if he or she is being spoken to.
- Develop a strong and mutually respectful relationships with the parents. Such collaborative Contact between parents and professionals is essential in creating confidence, empowerment and involvement. Parents are an invaluable source of information about their child. Children with autism may have a difficulty with communication and language and therefore their interpretation of events that happen either in the home or in school may be, at times, unreliable. This misinformation can cause difficulties within the parent/professional relationships. Therefore, if possible, use a Home School Diary, so that both the teacher and the parents have a clear view of events occurring at home or in school.
- Working in Partnership with Parents
- Parent and professional partnerships
- Children progress better at school when their parents are involved.
- Parents need to hear your positive insight on their child.
- Parents, when informed, will support the interventions used in the classroom. If the teacher is using a particular strategy, it is best if the parent interaction complements this.
- Parents trust their child’s teacher to help them interpret or challenge the findings of other professionals, as the class teacher spends such a percentage of the child’s day with him or her.
- When parents and professionals work together to meet the needs of the child with autism, the results are often dramatic and can impact positively on not only the child’s cognitive development but also his or her, social, and emotional maturation.