What support is available?
- For Teachers
I am new to the forums and I am in need of some advice. This will be my third year teaching ESL and this year a student with severe autism has tested into the program. Has anyone else had this type of situation?
What support is available?
I have a student with Asperger's in one of my private classes. I find that he picks up words he's interested in very quickly. It's hard to keep his attention... he goes off in his own world very easily. He hates drawing and colouring and loves mathematical things, like telling the time.
It can be difficult in a class with others, as he is quite time demanding, but he's a good kid and picks up English very quickly!
Each child is individual though, and so is the way autism effects them.
I've never taught an autistic child but have plenty of contact with them in my personal life, and while you will have lots of challenges I hope you find it very rewarding too. It's actually Autism Awareness month here in the UK so there's plenty of material out there to help you at the moment!
As kirstyjay says, every autistic child is individual, no less so than any other child, but in general some basic tips include things like keeping strictly to a pre-established routine (so the child feels secure and knows what to expect) and cutting back on the "decorative" elements in your classroom so that only images relevant to the lesson are being displayed. Keep distractions and noise (visual and aural) to a minimum if possible.
Autistic children often need more processing time than others - so don't lose patience if they don't understand a concept. Take a break, do something else for a while and then return to the original concept and you will often find they now understand it very well.
Symbols and simple images representing concepts work very well with most autistic children, and since they are also invaluable in an ESL classroom, they're certainly something to use plenty of! Some children with autism respond well to drama and role play activities to learn social skills, and again I would imagine this could work well in an ESL setting.
Best of luck with your teaching :)
Thank you all for your valuable input. It is very hard because he is in Kindergarten, and is using a lot of echolalic speech. He does pick up vocabulary very quickly. My problem lies in the state testing for ESL that the state of New York gives every year. He can answer simple yes or no questions, but when it comes to more open ended questions (which is what the state test asks) he is just not there yet. An example of a speaking question might be to finish the sentence (and it would have a picture): The girl goes to the store.... He would not be able to answer this, he only repeats. He can read a book, but if you ask what the boy did he cannot tell you. Maybe in time he can, but I don't understand how to get him there. He is in a self-contained classroom with other students that are labeled as having disabilities, but they are mainly behavior/emotional issues.
The echolalic speech is a good thing because it means he is making some developmental progress in the area of speech, but besides vocabulary and role playing, I'm not sure what else I can be doing.
I cannot offer any help at all with your situation, I am afraid.
All I can do is to wish you luck, and say that if you find yourself feeling guilty about your inability to help this child, stop! Working with autistic children is difficult for those with specialist training and some experience. It seems to me that you have been dumped in a situation which is unfair to both you and the child.
I think that Tullia has given some useful suggestions. I hope they help. If they don't, don't blame yourself.
Very best wishes
Please do not edit your question after it has received a response. Such editing can make the response hard for others to understand.
Teaching any child is a challenge and responsibility. No matter how professional you are at developmental psychology, today's young learners will guarantee you a lot of headache.
Regarding autism, it might help to know that certain features like fear of changes, difficulties in dealing with others, repetitive behaviour and a lot of others are becoming quite common nowadays, common among those who have never been diagnosed with autism.
To cut it short, there are certain golden rules which usually help in both cases:
- autism and autocracy never match - there is no sense in forcing the boy into any activity/task as he either has his own point of view or just doesn't follow you. A good alternative could be to offer him a choice, for example the task for the whole group and/or something special for him like writing. Most of them find virtually any writing, even most meaningless, quite comfortable.
- it usually helps to avoid eye contact. It might look ridiculous to stare at the ceiling while talking to the child, yet in this case he may be more willing to reply.
- any 1-to-1 contact should be thoughtfully organised. It could be worthwhile experimenting with the distance, voice volume and body movements. The point is to attract his attention without threatening, give him enough elbow room to digest the information and enough time to come up with the answer. With small children a teddy bear or any other toy could play the role of an interpreter. Indeed, hiding behind a toy makes speaking much more comfortable and consequently easier.
- in ESL class pair work is probably the only possible way to success, but it's a matter of life and death to find a suitable partner. Preferably, it is somebody easy-going, not extremely competitive and even-tempered. Clearly, it's a matter of luck. Should you find one, make sure you provide the boy in question with straightforward instructions and supportive prompts.
There is a lot more about autistic pupils, but the core approach is to let them learn at their own pace. Given enough time, many of them manage to cope with their problems, acquire a thorough knowledge and develop good skills.
ps. Being positive and optimistic no matter what is usually a good way to deal with any problem children. Best of luck, if there are any questions just ask