Which school subject has led to more parental gray hairs than all other subjects combined?
It’s not too hard to guess that the answer is math.
Math can be a struggle for any child, but students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often encounter some unique challenges where math is concerned.
Now that it’s summertime, it can be tempting to let math practice fall by the wayside, and leave the stress of dealing with it until the new school year starts up again in the Fall. But as ASD parents, you also know that consistency is key, both to keeping math skills on track— and to keeping frustration and meltdowns to a minimum when math class is back in session.
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I created Thinkster Math to help every child succeed in math, and we do often work with children with autism. I asked two of our online tutors, Yvonne and Sabrina, to share some insights into what has worked for them in their sessions with these students. These are tips that parents can apply over the summer as well. Here is some of what they said:
1. Make real-world connections
For children on the spectrum, some of the more abstract concepts in math can present a problem. As concrete, black-and-white thinkers, it can be hard for them to understand a nebulous idea that doesn’t have an obvious practical application.
Sabrina told me the story of one student with ASD who would routinely let her know, in no uncertain terms, when he felt a lesson was “pointless.” Each time, she would help him see the real-world importance of that particular concept, and that would aid in his understanding and motivation.
Throughout the summer, try to make those connections for your child whenever you can. Let him/her pay for items at the store, and practice adding and subtracting, multiplying and dividing in the process. Or take your child to a local museum of science to let them experience the way math affects technology and science in a hands-on way.
2. Provide extra positive reinforcement
All kids benefit from positive reinforcement in math, but the additional challenge of decoding social cues makes clear positive feedback even more vital for students on the spectrum.
Yvonne shared a story about a student she works with who thrives on praise given animatedly and excitedly. Every single time Yvonne praised her multiple times each session, she got a “Thank you very much, Miss Yvonne!” This kiddo was motivated to keep working.
Don’t be sparing in your praise of your ASD child’s math progress. Provide your child with some math work to practice over the summer, and then make a huge deal out of every success – it’ll inspire him/her to keep up the good work.
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3. Introduce changes slowly
Change is inevitable, but it’s also hard for children on the spectrum to deal with sometimes. Unfortunately, math class is full of changes—new concepts, new approaches to solving problems, new methods of teaching—and that can make learning even more difficult.
Yvonne recommended introducing changes slowly and gradually. If your child’s previous teacher used a lot of videos to teach math concepts, and you know next year’s teacher will use a lot more student work on a smartboard, start discussing the change with your child over the summer. Get him/her a whiteboard or tablet to start getting familiar with writing on a board or with the apps that might be used. That way, when it’s introduced in school, your child will already be comfortable with it.
4. Provide individualized attention
Ultimately, every student has different math needs. Some children are visual learners, while some are more hands-on. Some have trouble with geometry but fly through algebra or vice versa. And within those categories, each student has concepts that seem harder or easier to them, just depending on how they’re wired.
The very best way to help your child with autism succeed in math is to get them one-on-one attention, to ensure that their unique, specific math needs are being met. Whether that means working with them yourself, getting a private tutor, or finding an online program that customizes its tutorials around assessments of their unique strengths and weaknesses, it’s the most important piece of the puzzle. And getting your child that individual math help over the summer will help them maintain the math skills they’ve already worked so hard to develop and be ready to jump into the next school year with a minimum of upset.
So take your kids to the museum this summer. Tell them how incredibly awesome they are, and help them prepare for any changes that next year will bring. And most importantly, figure out what their unique math needs are, and provide that one-on-one attention that’ll help them thrive now, next year, and for the rest of their life.
This article was featured in Issue 89 – Solutions for Today and Tomorrow with ASD