Helping Children With Autism Learn
The core skill deficits for children with Autism may be referred to as "Autism Specific Learning Disablities"(Seigal, 2003). It is necessary to treat the individual symptoms not the diagnosis.
When preparing a treatment intervention it is vital to consider the following areas to determine the child's individual deficits or "learning styles" and to identify the child's strengths/ weaknesses:
1. Cognitive: How is the brain functioning?
2. Developmental: Social, communication, engagement, emotional functioning
3. Educational: Plans, Learning, Assessments
4. Medical: What are the child's physiological differences?
When a holistic assessment has been completed the planning process can be developed. The underlying philosophy of any treatment/program or individual/agency/professional must also be examined prior to commencement of intervention. Motivation to learn is enhanced by providing enriching experiences for the child. Encouraging the child to seek out pleasurable experiences and continue seeking those experiences should be a main goal of those providing learning environments for children with special needs.
It may also be important to consider providing activites for the child to move from a situation of forced responding to active responding. Providing time for activities that are self-initiated encourage the development of problem solving skills which enhances higher level learning capapbilities. Forcing children to respond to stimuli may acheive the desired outcome but does it actually show that the child has learned a new skill or can transfer that learning to different environments?
BEST PRACTICE EDUCATIONAL STRATEGIES:
The three "P"'s may be helpful for children with Autism Specific Learning Disabilities:
1. Priming: Pre-practice is an excellent way to introduce material to children before they have to activley engage in learning the material. Priming may also be beneficial to encourage peer or social interactions, initiation of social interactions or becoming familiar with a story from a social situation before it given to the entire class.
2. Prompting: The teacher can use prompting strategies for the child with autism while also including "neurotypical" peers in the process. Prompt the "neurotypical" child who then in turn prompts the child with Autism. Prompts can also be used directly with the child with autism.
Research has also been conducted on using a tactile prompt like a device in the student's pocket that vibrates when the child should intiate a social / verbal interaction.
3. Pictures: Picture schedules increase predictability and is an alternative to verbal or written communication. Can serve as effective cues for children with autism to commence or deter them from a certain behaviour. Is also helpful in transitions and times that may cause increased stress or frustration.
4. Delayed or Contingent Reinforcement: Research has shown that students with disabilities are less likely to engage in inappropriate behaviour while being supervised by an adult. The removal of the adult also removes the positive reinforcement that is given to the student. Research has been completed that uses unpredictable schedules of supervision and found an increase in appropriate behaviours as the student was unaware of when supervision would be occuring. This may conclude that "thinning" supervision may be required to increase on task behaviour without supervision. (See Dunlap, Pilienis, and Williams 1987)
5. Self-Management Strategies: These strategies are requried to encourage independence and self responsibility from the student. Self monitoring forms or sheets to encourage self-analysis on inappropriate/appropriate behaviours can be utilized. Students with disabilities were taught ot use a wrist counter to record their correct responsed to questions and rewarded.
6. Peer Tutoring: Classwide Peer Tutoring (CPT) involves pairing of children and who then work together to complete a project.
7. Peer Support: Training specific children to interact with children with Autism on a regular basis. Increased the probability that children will engage and interact.
8. Cooperative Learning: Teaching academic and social skills to both children with autism and their "neurotypical" peers.
Educators have utilized a multicomponent intervention to target increased inclusion for the child with autism.
Hunt, Alwell, Farron-Davis and Goetz (1996) evalualted a multicomponent intervention that comprised of the following:
a. weekly club meetings to discuss interactions between peers and students with autism
b. various media used for communicative purposes
c. rotating buddy system
Dramatically increseased reciprocal interaction between peers and students with disabilities.
Precede a difficult task with a series of smaller tasks and reinforcing compliance with these easy requests.
Pivotal Response Training and Naturalistic Teaching Strategies:
Increasing motivation to learn by incorporating choices, reinforcing attempts, using adequate modeling, natural consequences, and natural language teaching interactions.