Many parents are currently having to make critical decisions on the education of their children with autism. Some students will be going to school full-time. Others will be staying home until parents feel it is safe for them to return to the classroom. Finally, some parents will be selecting a hybrid model for their child with autism as they attend classes remotely at home as well as in person for a portion of their school week.
Here are 10 simple suggestions for parents in making the most of their autistic child’s education during this school year regardless of which schooling option is chosen.
1. Collaborate with your autism teacher
It will be important for you to maintain regular contact with your special education teacher. He/She may want you to assist with collecting certain data on your child while at home. This will help him/her with developing academic, social, and behavioral programs to assist your child through this school year. Ask how your child is doing by maintaining an online presence with the special education teacher during their online sessions. Check on the progress your child and his/her teachers are making towards the goals of his/her Individualized Education Plan (IEP). An autism teacher would also be an excellent resource in setting up “play dates,” or times on the computer to interact with other autistic students so they can all share how their days at school and home are going.
2. Collaborate with your regular education teacher
Many students with autism attend a regular education classroom for part of or the entire school day. During this time while your child may be staying home, maintaining contact with your child’s regular education teacher will be important. He/She can offer insight into how your child with autism is interacting with other students during online sessions. He/She can keep you apprised as to the progress your child with autism is making towards his/her reading and math skills, as well as offer creative ways to engage your child at home while maintaining his/her studies.
Regular education teachers can also assist you when it comes time for placing your child in a group with other students who may be the best at interacting with him/her. Working with your regular education teacher can assist your autistic child by instilling a “sense of normal” throughout his/her day. You can also always check with your regular education teacher on the effectiveness of any modifications and accommodations being used for your child.
3. Develop a routine
Many children with autism appear to learn better when established routines are in place. Working with your child’s regular and special education teachers can assist in developing that daily routine. Knowing the structure of the day may improve your child’s ability to transition from one activity to another smoothly.
4. Use a visual schedule and visual timer
Students with autism tend to benefit from the use of a visual schedule as well as a visual timer. A visual schedule can assist with laying out the day to day routine that has been established for your child. Students with autism can successfully plan out their day and effectively know what is going to occur next in their routine. In addition, visual timers can assist your autistic child in fully understanding how long each of his/her individual sessions will last online. This can reduce his/her level of anxiety by informing him/her about how much time is left to complete an assignment.
5. Locate a standard designated workspace
Work with your child with autism to determine where he/she wants to set up an individual workspace in your home. This will allow him/her to develop a sense of ownership of the workspace. He/She can decorate his/her own workspace in a fashion he/she finds pleasing. It should be located in a part of the home where noise and daily traffic are reduced. This will allow your autistic child the maximum chance of focusing.
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6. Have your necessary materials accessible and organized
Help your child with autism stay organized. Have a place established for hanging his/her backpack. Provide baskets or organizers to place markers, crayons, and pencils in. Ask your child’s teachers what supplies he/she will need to be successful with daily schoolwork. Buy some binders for him/her to place assignments that need to be completed and binders for work that is completed and needs to be submitted to the teacher.
7. Develop appropriate breaks
Work with your autistic child on the appropriate way to let his/her teachers know he/she needs a break. Show him/her how to use a visual timer to track the break time. Just like he/she is able to take or request a break when at school and feeling overwhelmed, let your child with autism understand the same option is also available at home.
8. Offer incentives
Everyone loves to work towards receiving an incentive. Your child with autism is no different. Interact with your child to determine an “If-Then” procedure. For instance, “if” he/she completes a math worksheet, “Then” he/she receives a token, ticket, or sticker. After you have a predetermined number of tickets or tokens, they can be cashed in for rewards like earning extra computer time during the day, playing a favorite video game, watching a movie, or listening to a favorite piece of music.
9. Balance preferred activities with non-preferred
Every child has activities he/she prefers to engage in during his/her school day as well as ones he/she would prefer to not engage in. Your child with autism is no different. Work with his/her teachers to develop a balanced schedule in terms of dealing effectively with both preferred and non-preferred activities. If your autistic child does not prefer math or science activities, try separating those activities within his/her daily schedule.
10. Praise your child regularly
Not being in school on a daily or even consistent basis may be difficult for your child with autism to deal with. Spending time with your child and “checking in” with him/her daily will allow him/her an opportunity to share his/her feelings with how his/her day is going. Praise your child with autism regularly throughout this process. Focus on the things he/she is doing well and the progress he/she is making towards the goals he/she is attempting to achieve.
This article was featured in Issue 116 – Enhancing Communication Skills