10 Reasons Why “A” is for Awesome AND Autism!
A few of our favorite things about working with our awesome learners with ASD...
1. Sometimes they are the only people to say exactly how it is
Learners with autism can often be very literal, and as a result might not comprehend that you may be looking for an answer you know to be false. I once told a student how old I was for a birthday; needless to say, they didn’t hold back in agreeing that I had become very old!
2. Having a passion for something is a gift
Just like many neurotypical learners, learners with autism often have a particular interest. However, their passion for this interest will usually outweigh the passions of their neurotypical peers. Because uncertainty and chaos can be over-stimulating for someone with ASD, common interests often include public transit timetables (trains, buses, street cars, etc.). However, this is obviously very generalized; I worked with one student who loved beer bottle tops. He travelled all around the world to collect different tops from different spots.
3. Wanting to share their passion with you is better still
Did you know that one of the first metal beer caps to be used was on a beer called Cumberland Brewing Co? Neither did I. I have learnt a lot from my students’ passions, and by allowing me to share in their interests, they also allow me to improve my teaching methods and adapt to their needs and enthusiasm.
4. Finally, someone noticing my haircut
Some learners with ASD notice even the slightest change. This could be a change in what you are wearing, your appearance (haircut for instance) or the environment. Some learners can find even the smallest change to their environment extremely difficult to understand though. It is important give as much warning as possible if a change is to occur, perhaps through visuals. Show them that celebrity picture you are taking to the hairdressers – although be prepared to be told that you don’t look anything like them when you return!
5. Having an amazing eye for detail (including noticing your newly acquired grey hairs)
Many individuals with ASD can often have an extreme eye for detail, noticing the tiniest blemish on the wall or the slightest of sounds. Some learners can become overloaded with information (both verbally and visually) and may need you to pause for a moment while they finish processing the information that either you or their environment is giving them. One of my students noticed every time I got a new grey hair. Luckily this didn’t distress them, but they did enjoy mentioning it during our morning hellos.
6. Keeping tracking of dates
Some individuals with ASD have a strong affiliation with numbers, partly due to their predictability. I had a student who could tell you what day of the week you were born on, if you gave him your full date of birth. It is difficult though for students when dates change or get rescheduled. Communicating with these students as soon as you know about the alteration is key. Sometimes you might have to prove yourself too. I had one learner who needed me to verify that my garbage collection date had changed, by taking a photo of the truck on the new day.
7. Making me more flexible in my teaching
As with any teaching – be it mainstream or special educational contexts – we should always be looking to adapt and develop our methods. Working with learners on the spectrum means that I am always trying to stay on top of my teaching and am finding new ways to design personalized learning experiences to meet their needs.
8. Having real, frank conversations
When I am speaking with my 5th graders about moving on into middle school, I can be very upfront and frank with them about what they need to do to be successful. I can talk to the about the importance of personal hygiene. I can discuss appropriate locker room habits. I can explain what kids mean when they are laughing in a certain way. With my neurotypical learners, they often get embarrassed by these conversations, even though they probably want to know the answers also. I will say, talking about puberty is much easier with my students with ASD!
9. Better understanding of hidden social rules
Explaining the hidden rules of society is so fascinating and something I get to do on a regular basis with my older students. Why do you not sit right next to someone in a fairly empty movie theater? Why is it awkward if you say goodbye to someone and then keep walking in the same direction? Why do you have to turn around and face the front of the elevator when you get on? Why do you say hello the first time you see someone in the morning, but only nod your head the second time you see them? These conversations are fun and fascinating, often making me question silly societal rules. My students make me a much better critical thinker!
10. And finally, dancing like nobody’s watching and making you realize that you should have been doing the same all your life
Some of my favorite moments were our school/college parties as dancing with no inhabitations is magical – you should really try it! Some learners with ASD have an ability to completely let go through dance. Some individuals though can find large, loud social events extremely unpleasant. One way around this is to have a silent disco, allowing learners to use their own personal music devices to listen to their preference of music at an appropriate noise level for them. It allows everyone to dance like nobody’s watching – me included!
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