Tips for Teachers
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Lara Mekkawi
4 Tips for Teaching Students with Autism

Teaching kids with Autism can prove to be challenging as each child learns differently and uniquely. etcetera spoke to Chaza Attar, behavior analyst and founder of the Autism Therapy & Training center, located in Woodbridge, Ontario, about some beneficial tips that teachers can use to help the student be more successful in their everyday.

1. Understand the Student’s World

Students with autism have very specific interests. Chaza emphasizes that it is very important to get to know your learner and pick things that they will enjoy to motivate them to work. If they like the iPad or certain toys to work with, utilize these tools. “Whatever it may be in terms of reinforcers, finding what works for your student is vital”, she explains.

2. Acknowledge and Reinforce

Token systems and reward systems are very important when dealing with a student with autism. Many teachers use such systems, but it is important to apply them consistently and positively. Chaza notes that, “in a school setting, if a child is doing good things, most of the times we stop attending to that, because they’re doing it.” However, it is important to acknowledge the desirable behaviors that the students are exhibiting; “if they’re walking nicely, they’re not jumping, and they’re not disrupting the classroom.” Teachers need to attend to those behaviors and always acknowledge a child for acting properly and doing tasks correctly especially if the child is exhibiting attention-seeking type behaviors. A teacher should always acknowledge and reinforce.

3. Look for Triggers

Students with autism may exhibit negative behaviors when asked to do certain tasks. It is crucial to look at what triggers the behavior and try to simplify the learner’s world a bit more to alleviate frustration. “Problem behaviors are happening for a reason,” says Chaza, “if a child can’t ask for water, he kicks and screams; that doesn’t mean that he’s being naughty or problematic,he just wants water and is very thirsty, so he’s going to do everything in his power to get that message across.” It is a teacher’s task to recognize the trigger and provide a desirable alternative. 

4. Break Down the Work and Build It Up Gradually

Simplifying the work and allowing a gradual build up is essential since children with autism often struggle with following any type of instruction and immerse themselves in a world of their own creation without attending to what’s going on around them. Expecting a student to complete a complex assignment in one step might result in them shutting down and failing to communicate. Often, if assignments are complicated or made up of several steps, Chaza explains that it is important to “simplify the work for the student and then over time make it harder and harder.” Students with autism need to be able to have a buildup to achieve their goals. For example, if today the student is going to do one math problem, tomorrow they’ll do two or three. Another situation would be if a student is expected to sit for 20 minutes at the table, this cannot be achieved overnight. Teachers mustput a system into place;they should teach the student how to build up gradually and slowly.

Chaza Attar has an MA in Applied Disability Students from Brock University. She is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) with over 10 years’ experience working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. She also trains new instructor therapists in Verbal Behavior and effective methods of teaching for children. Chaza founded the Autism Therapy and Training center in 2010.

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  • My young daughter has discovered the Internet and now spends a lot of time browsing websites and social media networks. How can I monitor her online activity and ensure that she remains safe?

    Protecting our kids from the darker side of the Internet has never been more important or more difficult. Dealing with this problem is an evolving process. For kids younger than 10, you can set and impose limits on the amount of time spent online. You can also restrict access to mobile devices connected to the Internet and only allow your child to use them in the family room where you can supervise rather than in the privacy of their bedroom. Explain to your child that she should not give out personal identifying information (real name, home address, school name and address, parents’ names, pictures) to anyone she does not personally know. Repeat this lesson until your child can recite it in her sleep. You also have options that allow you to control for the most part what your child can see online. For example, iPads have parental controls and content filtering software that you can enable. Browsers also allow you to block certain websites. You have to make the constant effort to familiarize yourself with those options or enlist the help of a proficient friend or family member. It’s also preferable not to allow your children to register for social media accounts until they reach the age of 13.

    For teenagers, however, open and honest communication is the key to ensuring online safety. At this age, kids are Internet veterans and will often know the Internet much better than you do. Yet, they don’t have your caution or experience. It’s more effective to discuss potential scenarios with your child. Explain that anything he or she posts online will stay online forever and can impact her future choice of university or career. Explain that the internet does NOT give anonymity. Discuss online bullying and posting hurtful comments (remember that your teen may be encouraged to bully others online). Explain the dangers of speaking to and sharing personal information with strangers. It’s never too late to enforce boundaries. If you are worried, you can ask your teenager for access to their social media accounts and inform them that you will be checking in. Do not do this behind their backs. There are many resources online that can help you keep your kid safe. 

  • I read a lot about the benefits of learning how to play a musical instrument. But how can I pick an instrument for my kid to start playing?

    A child will reap the benefits of musical training regardless of what musical instrument he or she is playing. However, choosing the right instrument for your child and for your family environment remains important. Forcing children to learn instruments they have no interest in will not foster a love of music and might cause the child to resent having to practice. However, you also don’t want him or her to choose an instrument that does not suit your family. For example, if as a parent you do not like the sound of the electric guitar, you will not be able to support your child or endure the hours of practice he or she needs to put in. Parents also need to like the sound of the instrument their child is playing. Take into account your child’s body type and make sure he picks an instrument he is comfortable holding and carrying. Also, make sure your child’s choice is not affected by any perceived “social value” of an instrument. For younger kids (4-6) you can’t go wrong with the keyboard or piano as those instruments provide a great foundation and children can easily transition to other instruments later if they would like to. Violin is also a good option as it comes in scaled sizes, but it requires more patience and persistence. Another thing to take into account is your child’s personality type. High energy kids can get great stress relief from playing the drums, and outgoing personalities may prefer instruments such as the saxophone or trumpet. The most important consideration, however, remains your child’s personal preference and passion as those are the biggest guarantees that he or she will stick with the instrument long enough to earn the life-long benefits. 

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