Here is a helpful article written by well known author Temple Grandin who overcame the challenges of autism as well.
I agree we must accentuate our gifts and focus on what we are good at. I also think in feeling pictures – it is just a different way not better or worse. I believe autism is not a disease, it is just another way of being and experiencing the world. Many adults and children with autism are very creative and artistic and expressing oneself with other mediums other than words comes more naturally. We have got to celebrate who we are and not try to fix or change ourselves to fit into society…
Temple Grandin, Ph.D.
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA
(Revised: December 2002)
Good teachers helped me to achieve success. I was able to overcome autism because I had good teachers. At age 2 1/2 I was placed in a structured nursery school with experienced teachers. From an early age I was taught to have good manners and to behave at the dinner table. Children with autism need to have a structured day, and teachers who know how to be firm but gentle.
Between the ages of 2 1/4 and 5 my day was structured, and I was not allowed to tune out. I had 45 minutes of one-to-one speech therapy five days a week, and my mother hired a nanny who spent three to four hours a day playing games with me and my sister. She taught ‘turn taking’ during play activities. When we made a snowman, she had me roll the bottom ball; and then my sister had to make the next part. At mealtimes, every-body ate together; and I was not allowed to do any “stims.” The only time I was allowed to revert back to autistic behavior was during a one-hour rest period after lunch. The combination of the nursery school, speech therapy, play activities, and “miss manners” meals added up to 40 hours a week, where my brain was kept connected to the world.
- Many people with autism are visual thinkers. I think in pictures. I do not think in language. All my thoughts are like videotapes running in my imagination. Pictures are my first language, and words are my second language. Nouns were the easiest words to learn because I could make a picture in my mind of the word. To learn words like “up” or “down,” the teacher should demonstrate them to the child. For example, take a toy airplane and say “up” as you make the airplane takeoff from a desk. Some children will learn better if cards with the words “up” and “down” are attached to the toy airplane. The “up” card is attached when the plane takes off. The “down” card is attached when it lands.
- Avoid long strings of verbal instructions. People with autism have problems with remembering the sequence. If the child can read, write the instructions down on a piece of paper. I am unable to remember sequences. If I ask for directions at a gas station, I can only remember three steps. Directions with more than three steps have to be written down. I also have difficulty remembering phone numbers because I cannot make a picture in my mind.
- Many children with autism are good at drawing, art and computer programming. These talent areas should be encouraged. I think there needs to be much more emphasis on developing the child’s talents. Talents can be turned into skills that can be used for future employment.
- Many autistic children get fixated on one subject such as trains or maps. The best way to deal with fixations is to use them to motivate school work. If the child likes trains, then use trains to teach reading and math. Read a book about a train and do math problems with trains. For example, calculate how long it takes for a train to go between New York and Washington.
- Use concrete visual methods to teach number concepts. My parents gave me a math toy which helped me to learn numbers. It consisted of a set of blocks which had a different length and a different color for the numbers one through ten. With this I learned how to add and subtract. To learn fractions my teacher had a wooden apple that was cut up into four pieces and a wooden pear that was cut in half. From this I learned the concept of quarters and halves.
- I had the worst handwriting in my class. Many autistic children have problems with motor control in their hands. Neat handwriting is sometimes very hard. This can totally frustrate the child. To reduce frustration and help the child to enjoy writing, let him type on the computer. Typing is often much easier.
- Some autistic children will learn reading more easily with phonics, and others will learn best by memorizing whole words. I learned with phonics. My mother taught me the phonics rules and then had me sound out my words. Children with lots of echolalia will often learn best if flash cards and picture books are used so that the whole words are associated with pictures. It is important to have the picture and the printed word on the same side of the card. When teaching nouns the child must hear you speak the word and view the picture and printed word simultaneously. An example of teaching a verb would be to hold a card that says “jump,” and you would jump up and down while saying “jump.” Continue reading “Teaching Tips for Children and Adults with Autism”