Date updated: Friday, March 29, 2013
By Alexandra Moses
When you’re the head of a class with an autistic student, the job of providing differentiated instruction can be daunting. With the number of autistic children on the rise—one in 88 fall somewhere on the autism spectrum, according to a 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report—regular classroom teachers are more likely to have a student with autism, a disorder which ranges widely in the severity of its effects on development.
Autistic students generally have an individualized education plan (IEP) or a 504 plan to lay out special accommodations. But it’s important to get to know the disorder and understand how modifications to your lessons are key to reaching your autistic students, says Lisa Goring, with Autism Speaks, a national advocacy group.
Visual devices, for instance, can be particularly useful for some, she says. Goring gives as an example an autistic student who is asked to name state capitals, but cannot respond to the verbal question with a verbal answer. Instead, the teacher used a visual device—stickers to place on a map—and the student was able to give all the correct answers.
“It’s about how the child can best communicate,” Goring says. “You may need to get in information in a different way. For some (autistic) students it may be that what motivates the rest of the class may not be motivating to them.”
Luckily, there are a number of resources to help teachers meet the unique needs and learning styles of autistic students.
The latest resources come in the form of apps. Not only does Autism Speaks have its own app for Android and iPhone, their online community compiles a list of their favorite autism apps that help teach social, cognitive and communication skills through behavior modification apps, language flash card apps, art apps and more. Try them in your classroom or suggest to parents and caregivers.
These sites feature lessons and tips to help you provide an inclusive classroom with differentiated instruction.
A number of professional development opportunities exist for teachers who want to better understand their autistic students. These sites offer continuing education, workshops and conferences on teaching students with autism.
Resources available locally
Services and supports vary by district, based on student needs; some may employ an autism consultant or a behavioral consultant. Whatever the supports in place, Goring of Autism Speaks says that central to it all should be a consistent team approach that includes constant communication between all the players.
Some sites with information and support for schools: