Thursday, December 12, 2013

Helping Autistic Students Thrive During the Holidays

This is a non-technology post.  I am the mom to an autistic son.  He had a meltdown at church when presents began apearring under the angel tree.  This got me thinking about how we, as educators, could help these students enjoy this time of year.

It’s the cray, cray, craziest time of the year!  The weeks between Thanksgiving and Holiday Break move at  breakneck speed.  In my last post on Getting Smart, I wrote about how you can survive during these weeks.  But what about your students?  How are they handling it? Specifically, your Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) kids?  What can be done to help them deal with the change and help them enjoy themselves? Some of these things you already do, they are just good classroom management strategies, but it may help to look at them through an ASD lens.

Let students and parents know in advance about schedule changes.  A sudden change can cause ASD kids a great deal of stress. You probably already post this on your teacher website and include it in your newsletter.  Consider making a copy of the week’s or day’s  schedule for a special needs student’s desk. This will help them track what’s happening in class and what will be different.  Parents are your allies in this as well. Send an email the afternoon before to remind them of any changes coming. They can work with their student that evening to help prepare him or her.  

If your class or school is participating in a community service project, your ASD student may be more receptive if the directions are concrete.  Instead of saying “Make a holiday card for someone at the nursing home.” Tell him or her “Please make a Happy New Years card for Bob.  He lives at the nursing home where the cards are going.” This may require a phone call to the nursing home to get specific names but will help those black and white thinking students.  If you are collecting toys for an agency or doing an angel tree, let your student name their angel.  It doesn’t matter what the name is, it’s just easier for an ASD student to shop for Billy, age 10 than male, age 10.

The class party can pose some interesting challenges.  If at all possible, let your autistic students take a sensory break before the party begins.  This could be as simple as telling all the students that you are polar bears and you need to bear crawl to the North Pole for the party.  Then all kids have the opportunity to work some wiggles and excitement out.

You will need to coach your student before any gift exchange.  Privately talk about how to respond if he or she doesn’t like the the gift they are given.  Practice a script of what to say.  Remind him or her that they don’t have to say everything they think.  Also practice body language with these scenarios.  Coaching may also be helpful in regards to food.  Help your student know how to react when they are served food they don’t like or if they eat something that is not tasty.  

A party schedule can also be helpful. It does not have to include specific times but a general rundown of what will happen and in what order.  This will calm most ASD students and let them enjoy the party more.  

Proximity can also be helpful during the party.  By now you probably know how your ASD student prefers to be soothed.  Keep your student close by so you can soothe and problem solve if he or she becomes upset.  Creating a cool down plan before the party begins will help avoid a scene during the party.  

This is a fun time of year! With a little planning, you can insure all students have fun.  What other strategies do you use this time of year? Share with us in the comments.

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