Getting a New Student with Autism

Getting a New Student with Autism Annette Wragge

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As an early childhood special education teacher before working as an autism consultant, I know the anticipation and sometimes the worry, getting new students can bring.  This can be especially true when a student has a diagnosis or educational verification of autism. Don’t let this be the case for you.  I can honestly say that working with students on the autism spectrum has been the greatest source of satisfaction that I have had in my professional career.   

Partnering with educators as an ASD consultant has given me the opportunity to observe some teacher qualities that I think are essential for success with students on the autism spectrum.    In this article I am going to share my top 3 teacher qualities in hopes that they will help you prepare for your new student(s) with autism.

1.)  Have a sense of HUMOR!  There are just some days you have to laugh at yourself or the situation.  I remember one occasion when the principal was in the classroom doing my annual evaluation.  For some reason one student with autism decided to take off all of his clothes and put on a pink tutu, from the dress up center.   It could have been a very stressful event, but thankfully we both saw the humor in it.   It was also a really good sensory experience (scratchy tutu) as well as a functional dressing activity for the student.

2.)  Learn all you can about autism.  This one is so critical to working effectively with students who have autism.  If you understand autism, you will be able to look beyond behaviors and skill deficits to find solutions.   Understanding autism also helps you not take social errors personally.  This is really important for you to develop a good relationship with the student.  People with autism often have the great gift of being direct. I’ve been told that I am too short, laugh to loud, am a bad cook and the list goes on.  These things are all true but I understand autism and have learned not to be offended easily.   I do recommend making a note to work on this with the student later so he/she doesn’t offend someone else who doesn’t understand autism.

3.)  Know what motivates the individual.  I think this is the most overlooked simple strategy that there is in effectively working with students with autism.   To effectively teach new skills, or shape existing skills, increase compliance, etc. you need to find what the child likes and get control of it.  Let’s face it, we all work for a paycheck and the same is true for individuals with autism.   What is motivating to someone with autism can be different than what motivates peers so you might need to be creative!  A great resource on using special interests to support students with autism is a book called Just Give Him the Whale! By Paula Kluth.

These are just a few tips to get you started with your new students.  Hope you have a great year. 

For more information please watch one or both of our 45 minute webinars.  These short webinars will you give you more in depth ideas for a successful year with your student(s) on the autism spectrum, and others as well!
Getting Ready for Your New Student with Autism Part 1 and Getting Ready for your New Student with Autism Part 2.