At the outset, let us understand what autism actually is. Autism is a neurobehavioral condition that is complex enough to cause impairment in social interaction and language and communication skills. People with autism are found to be rigid and can have repetitive behaviors. Owing to this complex range of symptoms, autism now is called autism spectrum disorder or ASD. A large spectrum of symptoms comes under autism and the levels of impairment may also be different from person to person. Severity of the disease can be from being a handicap that prevents a person from leading a normal life to a devastating disability that may require admission to a rehabilitation centre.
Children with autism have trouble in communicating effectively with others. They do not have the ability to understand what others think and feel. This makes it very difficult for them to express themselves either verbally or through gestures, facial expression or touch.
Children with autism are likely to be very sensitive and sometimes even pained by sounds, touches, smells or sights that seem normal to others. Children with autism are prone to repetitive body movements such as rocking, pacing or hand flapping. They demonstrate unusual responses to people, attachments to objects, reluctance to change their routines. They can even be belligerent or show self-injurious behavior. Ironically, they may seem not to notice people, objects or activities around them. Seizure can also occur as an offshoot of autism.
Some people affected with autism are intellectually impaired. What is to be understood here is, in contrast to other cognitive delays where there would be a cognitive impairment in every aspect, people with autism show uneven skill development. They may find certain areas of life challenging, especially in communicating with others and understanding what they are told to. But they may show skill development in some other areas like drawing, music, solving math problems or memorizing facts.
Many people with autism are visual thinkers. To learn words like “up” or “down,” the teacher should demonstrate them to the child. Avoid long strings of verbal instructions. Children with autism have problems with remembering the sequence. They are unable to remember sequences. Directions with more than three steps have to be written down. Moreover, as they have difficulty remembering objects, they cannot make their picture in their mind.
Many children with autism are good at drawing, art and computer programming. These talent areas should be encouraged. Talents can be turned into skills that can be used for future employment.
Autistic children’s handwriting can be messy. This is because they have reduced motor control compared to normal children. This can totally frustrate the child. To reduce frustration and help the child enjoy writing, let him type on the computer. Typing is often much easier.
Apart from these general instructions, there are tailor-made teaching methodologies for autistic children. Let’s understand them.
Applied Behavior Analysis:
ABA is the name of the systematic approach to the assessment and evaluation of behavior, and the application of interventions that alter behavior. The principles of analyzing behavior to understand its function, controlling the environment and interactions prior to a behavior and adjusting responses and using positive reinforcement like rewarding what you want to see, are all ABA techniques that are often used in shaping behavior in individuals with autism. Many programs use the principles of ABA as a primary teaching method, or as a way of promoting positive and adaptive behavior.
Discrete Trial Teaching:
DTT targets skills and behaviors based on an established curriculum. Each skill is broken down into small steps, and taught using prompts, which are gradually eliminated as the steps are mastered. The child is given repeated opportunities to learn and practice each step in a variety of settings. Each time the child achieves the desired result, he receives positive reinforcement, such as verbal praise or something that he finds to be highly motivating.
The premise of Floor-time is that an adult can help a child expand his circles of communication by meeting him at his developmental level and building on his strengths. Therapy is often incorporated into play activities – on the floor – and focuses on developing interest in the world, communication and emotional thinking by following the child’s lead.
Picture Exchange Communication System:
The PECS system allows children with little or no verbal ability to communicate using pictures. An adult helps the child build a vocabulary and articulate desires, observations or feelings by using pictures consistently. It starts with teaching the child to exchange a picture for an object. Eventually, the individual learns to distinguish between pictures and symbols and use these to form sentences. Although PECS is based on visual tools, verbal reinforcement is a major component and verbal communication is encouraged.
Relationship Development Intervention:
This special education program seeks to improve the individual’s long-term quality of life by helping him improve social skills, adaptability and self-awareness through a systematic approach to building emotional, social and relational skills.
This teaching technique promotes child-initiated communication in everyday activities and the ability to learn and spontaneously apply functional and relevant skills in a variety of settings and with a variety of partners. This model favors having children learn with and from peers who provide good social and language models in inclusive settings as much as possible.
This education program employs specific behavioral research on the development of language and is designed to motivate a child to learn language by developing a connection between a word and its value.