Autism and teaching techniques: I wish I could say I know them all, but to tell you the honest-to-goodness truth, I’m just learning myself.
These techniques that I’ll be sharing were first done with Temple Grandin, the first activist for autism. I’ll be sharing some of my own, too, that I have been learning in my current year of homeschooling.
Many people with autism are visual thinkers. I’m constantly praying for God to give me something to share every day from both Sonlight curriculums that I’m using — SonLight and SonLight Education Ministry (SEM) curriculum. I choose to use both because of the extra reading books that I can get, which help me find where his interests may lie…besides just Thomas the Tank Engine.
Last year, I made a lapbook. A lapbook book is a book that can be made with any folders that can be folded in three sections. You can add pictures and words to get what the lesson is all about. For instance, our character quality for our unit study was on “love.” In SEM, its structured in a way that each character quality is mentioned in subjects like math, voice, nature, health, Bible, and history; I focused was introduction to math, voice, nature, health, and music. Lapbooks are great teaching tools. Pictures are like the first language for autistic children, and then the words become their second.
In our introduction to health last year, I wanted my son, Adam, to learn the 10 commandments of health with his sister, who is not diagnosed with autism. I created a “God Loves Me” booklet in a heart shape, and cut and printed the laws of health onto it.
I also created a small replica of the biblical Ten Commandments by covering a single, flat, open, double-sided type box with butcher paper, and found and cut out images of the 10 Commandments that would be easy for him and his sister to remember, and also cut out some safety signs to place onto the back of the box. I wanted to compare each creation to get a comparison to God’s love and our obedience towards Him.
The next technique I use is to avoid long strings of verbal instructions. Instead, I talk to him, step by step, about what we will be doing for the day. Math is the only subject where I have to write down for him instructions — for example, what to do in locating the tens and ones.
I’m currently keeping a record of the time I give him morning and afternoon on his computer. Every morning he loves to go onto the computer after worship and exercise, so I give him maybe 20 or 30 minutes for Thomas the Tank Engine stories that he love to hear, and then again when he wakes up after his nap, he gets maybe 20 or 25 minutes more. We use this as part of his math lesson, since we are learning to work with double digits. I write down the number of minutes I give him for both morning and afternoon, and then show him how we can add them by looking at the ones and tens place. I also time him when he’s on his chromebook for his learning apps, which helps get him motivated to learn spelling, math, and the world map.
Another thing that helps him is me writing step-by-step instructions for our morning workout. This makes it easy for him to lead out as a personal trainer.
Investing in a chromecast device adaptor to hook to your TV enables you to share videos from Youtube. I was able to create a playlist for Adam to learn the hymns that went with our theme study on character and nature study.
Many children with autism are good at drawing, art, and computer programming. These talent areas should be encouraged. My son doesn’t like to draw or do art, but he loves going onto the computer.
Another technique is sign language, if a child with autism cannot talk, using sign language and pictures to tell a social story are helpful. Making emotion faces with construction paper and sticks are good starters to language.
If a child has a favorite TV show, record the show with the closed captions and incorporate the show as part of the reading lesson.
There are more strategies that I have discovered, but the last one I’d like to share is using special interests to facilitate the learning process. Many autistic children are more motivated more by their special interests than other things, and this passion can be used as an advantage when teaching.
For example, if a child loves cars, use toy cars to teach geography on a map by “driving the car” to different states. I did this just recently with Adam when I pretended to take his train to South Dakota to discuss Mt. Rushmore, while we were talking about rocks in our study.
These techniques seem to work out for me, and I thank God for his help through this journey. It’s not over, though, so I’ll share more techniques in my next post.