How can we help support children on the Autism spectrum?

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Here are some strategies you can implement to help support Autistic children.

Communication

  • Use visual cue cards (picture or photo cards) individually or in a sequence of steps with verbal language
  • Break instructions down into simple, precise steps until child is ready to process more than one instruction at a time. Role model what is expected
  • Use visual boards with two steps – ‘first’ and ‘then’
  • Create a visual routine for the room and if necessary individual children
  • Give children time to process your verbal and non-verbal communication. Always use child’s name when speaking to them
  • Role model in achievable steps how child can interact with peers
  • Give children warning about what’s coming next before ending an activity or routine (use visuals if necessary) so they have time to process what’s going to happen and can decrease their anxiety
  • Give clear, concise, literal instruction – make sure what you are saying is actually what you want child to do or hear
  • Avoid sarcasm and idioms -statements like ‘crying your eyes out,’ ‘piece of cake,’ and ‘you’re ok,’ don’t make sense to children with Autism who  take what you say literally and don’t understand the meaning behind these types of sayings
  • Model language correctly to help with lip reading
  • Don’t stop the child and correct communication. Give them time and model correct structure/ words in your reply
  • Work with families to learn and use the basics of visual sign languages like Auslan or Makaton to support your verbal communication
  • Be consistent with communication within the whole group or centre so every child can communicate with all children at the service
  • Don’t insist on eye contact – just because a child is not looking at you doesn’t mean they’re not listening
  • Provide one on one support and create a list of words the child uses in order to build and increase vocabulary – this can go into a child’s ‘planning matrix’
  • Regularly communicate with parents and professionals involved. Be positive but honest. A communication book is a great idea!

Environment

  • Set up small spaces in the indoor and outdoor environment for children who need to be alone or away from the main group. These spaces can also be used as aides to help the child integrate into the group
  • Consider any sensitivities children may have to pressure, texture, smell, noise, colour etc and adapt the environment
  • Purchase or borrow specialist equipment
  • Try to avoid sudden loud noises
  • Set up a space for children to retreat to. This is critical. Providing spaces can also serve a particular function, such as Lego, chess, robotics or art club. This will depend on the age and interests of those involved

Organise activities in small groups to increase the likelihood of children building friendships with others who have similar interests. This creates an opportunity for friendship and interaction.

Educator Practices

  • Develop and implement behaviour guidance and education plans with everyone involved in child’s care
  • Make sure all educators provide consistent care. There should be a plan in place to critically reflect, communicate changes and successes
  • Provide consistent, familiar routines
  • Provide calming breaks for the child and educators if necessary
  • Be aware of the child’s triggers and impacts on learning
  • Help children recognise others’ emotions and empathy
  • Regularly review strategies or education plan as a team. Ensure all educators working directly with the child review as necessary in consultation with the child’s families and professionals supporting them
  • Integrate child’s obsessions/ fixations with certain topics, people and places into curriculum and build upon them
  • Respectfully help children who need assistance with toileting and feeding. Be discreet and respect the child’s privacy when doing so.

Other tips

  • Get parent’s written approval to consult early intervention professionals
  • Make sure you get as much information about the child as possible during the enrolment process. Educators who complete ‘Visual matrix for parents’ (see handout) in consultation with families will create a smoother transition process
  • Create a specific enrolment process for children with additional needs and ensure a plan is in place before the child starts. If a child with Autism has a bad experience the first time they enter a particular environment it will be very difficult to fix and come back from
  • Invite the child and their parents into the centre at a quiet time of the day to help the child become familiar with the new environment.

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