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How to Teach: Autism Spectrum

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

ASD is a neurobiological disorder and presents differently in each student with this diagnosis. The student may exhibit communication challenges, social skills deficits, anxiety, executive functioning challenges, difficulty with fine and gross motor skills, sensory issues which can be under or over stimulated from environmental conditions such as temperature, noises, odors, busy visual environment.

An ASD student in your classroom may present as inattentive, difficulty working in groups, lacking organization, poor awareness of personal space with others, may have repetitive behaviors such as rocking in chair or brushing/patting hair, pen tapping when stressed, they may dominate classroom conversations, have great knowledge of particular subject, literal interpretation of words, and be focused on one task at a time.

How to support an ASD student in your classroom

  • develop a personal relationship and meet with them 1:1 early at the start of the semester. Ask them after class their opinion on something discussed in you class
  • teach to different learning modalities (this will enrich your subject for all students)
  • Have clear due dates on syllabus for all assignments and projects. Do not post some due dates on different platforms, some on class emails, some on MyCourses, some on the course syllabus. This is okay but still have list of all due dates on a Master Due Date List for students with challenged executive functioning skills.
  • Respect student’s chosen level of eye contact.
  • If possible, provide instructor notes to class.
  • Allow for sensory/comfort items that will not disrupt class.
  • Announce at start of class any in-class activities so ASD student is aware of activities in advance.
  • Allow for extra transition time if going from lecture format to in class group work.
  • awareness that sensory perceptions can interfere with ASD students learning (e.g. buzzing, flickering light, smells)
  • awareness that group work may be stressful and difficult for ASD student
  • If student appears to be struggling, ask to meet after class and ask student for suggestions that may help them.

Other resources

10 Things Faculty Need to Understand About Autism

Rochester Institute of Technology Spectrum Support Program

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