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What Advances Are There in Autism Education?

Joe Whyte

June 22, 2013

According to the CDC, approximately one in every 88 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder, and some experts say that diagnosis rates may rise with improved testing and awareness. Children with autism spectrum disorder often require additional classroom support to learn social and academic skills, so the need for qualified teachers and teacher's aides is likely to increase. While working with children with autism can pose some special challenges, training in working with children with autism gives you tools that can be helpful in working with children who have special needs, or children in general.

Children with autism often have problems processing the sensory information around them. For instance, birds chirping outside might make it difficult for them to focus on the game you are playing, even if the chirping is quiet enough for most people to screen out. Children with autism may have strong interests, and restrict their activities to those that include their interests. You will learn how to work with the environment and their abilities to help them learn to express themselves while learning to understand and communicate with others. 

When you take classes in working with children with autism, you may be asked to participate in role playing exercises to help you practice such skills as hand over hand prompting, where you may physically guide your classmates in such skills as using safety scissors or holding writing implements. You may develop and practice methods of redirection, which helps students refocus on the task you have planned. You may create boards for use with the Picture Exchange Communication System, known as PECS. This system involves a child learning to exchange a picture of an item for the actual desired item or an activity involving the item pictured. Children with autism may use the PECS system to signal a desire for a particular toy, hunger, need to use the bathroom, and other items or tasks.

You will also learn more about how to manage sensory input to help a child focus, how to speak so that you might be understood by someone who might take sarcasm or idioms literally, and how to use a child's interests to help them learn new skills. You will learn to identify signs of a child with autism who is overwhelmed by sensory input or emotion, and develop strategies for helping them help themselves. 

Many children with autism are in classrooms with a low student-teacher ratio, so if you love working closely with children, working as a special education teacher or teacher's aide might be the career for you. It is possible to get an online teaching degree and focus on this special group of children.  Children with autism often require unusual approaches to learning, or may react to ordinary things in extraordinary ways. If you are looking for a chance to express your creativity in finding educational solutions for children with special needs, teaching children with autism might be for you.