Schoolwide Support for Students With Autism

In honor of National Autism Awareness Month, here are some tips to create a supportive environment for students.

April 2017, Volume 40, Issue 8

According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control, about 1 in 68 school-aged children have been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Considering the prevalence of children on the autism spectrum, it’s essential that every school leader makes an effort to understand how to best educate these students.

Part of Principal magazine’s series on autism, “A Guide to Making the Autism Puzzle Fit,” stresses the importance of making sure the school and staff are on the same page when it comes to understanding autism and supporting students on the spectrum. Here are some tips for ensuring autism awareness and support is a priority at your school:

Staff Development. Teaching staff need to understand ASD and how individuals with ASD process information, which is quite different from their typical peers. In-depth training in all of the various profiles of ASD and strategies to teach them is necessary for those directly teaching the student. In addition, the entire school staff should undergo awareness training.

Consistency in Staffing. Students with ASD learn best with predictability in staffing, schedules, and events, but do not thrive if teaching staff change quickly. Too often, this is the largest cause for disruptive behaviors. Visual schedules, task lists, and rehearsal strategies can help to lessen distress if changes must occur. Students will also need the appropriate supports identified in the individualized education plan (paraprofessional time, behavior plans, visual supports, academic modifications, etc.), which must be implemented consistently throughout the day and school term.

Information. School staff will quickly learn that ASD students are different and that they need information about the disorder to help prevent negative opinions. In addition, schools should be prepared to offer parents information and resources as well. Last, all students need disability awareness to increase their understanding and tolerance of all disabilities, including ASD.

Schoolwide Anti-bullying Curriculum. Students with ASD are extremely vulnerable to being bullied due to their lack of social skills and immaturity. ASD students rarely lie, so if they say they are being bullied, they most likely are. Train all students in tolerance; provide examples of what a student should do if they witness bullying behavior or if they themselves are being bullied; and train teachers to recognize the various forms of bullying. In addition, provide extra training to ASD students, targeting the social skills that put them at risk of being bullied.

Adapted from “A Guide to Making the Autism Puzzle Fit,” by Sheila Wagner. Principal, September/October 2011.

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