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Tips for teaching and training children with autism:

Pay attention and look for behavioral problems. Use a positive approach and have high expectations. Just because a person is autistic, don’t assume they can’t do something.

Praise, praise, praise. Children with autism need and respond to positive reinforcement, lots of love and attention.

Require a response from the person with autism. However, when you tell a person with autism to do something, give them a little more time than normal to respond. Many children with autism have difficulty processing auditory and/or visual cues and need more time to “decode” what you’ve said and more time to decide upon a response.

Speak slowly and clearly. Remember that a person with autism may have trouble processing what you say. Be specific, but remember children with autism take everything you say literally. Example: A parent is puzzled when her child kept holding her homework papers close to her face, until the parent realized that she’d said “keep your eyes on the paper.”

Most children with autism resist change. They like the sameness of a schedule. This is because they have trouble comprehending cues from their environment. Change is frightening for the child. Therefore, use a schedule for upcoming events for the child. They need to be warned about scary things that are about to happen (even when it‘s about time for the school bell/alarm to ring. Say “Johnny, the school bell will ring in five minutes.”

Children with autism are very sensitive to sound, therefore do not raise your voice, grab or threaten the child. Example: tell the child to do something two or three times, such as to sit in a chair. If they still don’t do it, calmly take them by the shoulder and guide them into the seat.

Children with autism often engage in obsessive-compulsive type behavior. If the fixation is something harmless that doesn’t infringe on others’ rights, simply ignore them. An example of this type of behavior would be if your child lines up her dolls in a specific manner in her room. However, sometimes the child will demand that others comply with their rigid routines, as well. For instance, a child might think he must count ten steps as he walks up the steps and he insists his mother do it, too. If the steps do not add up or he miscounts, they must go back and do it again. The child believes something bad will happen if the correct number of steps is not counted. Once it’s completed, however, there’s a great sense of relief. If you try to stop the child from doing the ritual, he may throw a severe tantrum. However, giving in to the ritual only reinforces the routine. You must be patient and ignore the behavior. The tantrums will most likely get worse before they get better. It normally takes at least three weeks, which is how long it takes to form a new habit. If the behavior doesn’t decrease, another method may be required.

The above tips are meant for guidelines only. For more information on education and living with children with autism, contact a professional. Also, the National Research Council has published “Educating Children with Autism.” This book identifies the features of an effective preschool and school program. The book also outlines the research behind different teaching methods. The Council makes a strong argument for beginning treatment as soon as an autism spectrum disorder is suspected. Effective educational programs should include a "minimum of 25 hours a week, 12 months a year" and "sufficient individualized attention.”


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