Receiving an education that is tailored to an individual’s needs not only helps to build a strong foundation for academic success, but greatly enhances one’s overall wellbeing. This is especially true for the many that are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): A developmental disorder that causes issues with communication, social, verbal, and motor skills.
While individuals with Autistic Spectrum Disorder can benefit significantly from a uniquely tailored treatment plan—in the classroom, at home, or by way of other supplemental services—having a diagnosis of autism does by no means limit one’s potential for success or ability for growth. Unique minds flourish in the right field. Still, individuals must be given an equal opportunity for growth and development when not only accessing education but also when seeking or maintaining employment in the future.
When discussing education and autism treatment, there are many myths and misconceptions.
One example being: there is but one method of teaching individuals with autism that has been deemed successful. And others which fail to recognize autism on a “spectrum” by assuming that many with ASD are not able to learn at the rate of which others without ASD can OR that a diagnosis of autism almost always guarantees the presence of a savant skill and/or marked giftedness. Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder may be of “average” or “above-average” intelligence and may or may not display higher intellectual capacity in specific areas.
Education and autism treatment were once addressed independently, leaving many gaps in the treatment and care for those with the condition. Now, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)—which ensures that children with disabilities such as autism are provided with free and affordable public education—as well as other laws and policies in place to protect and advocate for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, education and autism treatment can be seen blended into one setting or delivered by multiple therapeutic channels to better help individuals thrive. And while some educational approaches will work well for some, such as inclusion and mainstreaming in the public school system, others may respond better to different approaches and/or settings.
In order to ensure the receipt of not just adequate education, but the best education available for individuals with autism, we must first understand an individual’s symptoms and barriers to learning, what they are entitled to under the rights of IDEA, and most importantly, their very own wants and needs. For this reason, it’s important to explore how someone with autism may feel or respond to the following scenarios before proceeding with an individualized education plan (IEP):
Treatment planning for individuals with ASD is typically comprised of a collaborative effort among professionals to ensure an individual has all of their needs met.
Treatment approaches may include the following:
Some individuals may receive multiple treatments or interventions in one setting such as in a private or therapeutic school-setting while others may receive their treatments staggered throughout the calendar-week or month. When it comes to delivering education and treatment for ASD, there isn’t one black-and-white manual to follow. All individuals have unique needs and will respond differently to various approaches; setting clear and measurable objectives for goal-achievement is vital to ensure best care practices when working with individuals with autism.
In order to achieve the greatest possible educational outcomes for individuals with autism, it’s pertinent to also understand the diversity of learning styles that exist. Today, it’s generally understood that as humans we learn in different ways and no two brains are exactly alike. There are visual, auditory, kinesthetic or ‘hands on,’ and reflective learning styles.
While it’s common for those with ASD to utilize one learning style in particular, it is possible for more than one learning style to be utilized as well. By observing, interacting, and communicating with an individual who has autism, we can better understand their preferred, or primary, learning style.
For instance, an individual who spends long stretches of time looking at books, watching television, and fascinated by images and text is likely to be a visual learner; an individual who enjoys talking to themselves or with others, observing others talk, and/or listening to music and talk-radio is likely to be an auditory learner; and an individual who is interested in taking things apart, using their hands to explore their environment, and intrigued by the operation of everyday items is likely a kinesthetic or ‘hands on’ learner.
There is a greater probability for learning to transpire when we know an individual’s preferred, or primary, learning style. And for educational settings that teach students with diverse learning styles, it’s helpful to integrate all styles during lessons. Providing students with visual aids, auditory experiences, and opportunities to be ‘hands on,’ followed by time to reflect or process a lesson or event, is an all-around successful strategy to ensure equal opportunity for growth and development.
Educational therapy methods for Autism Spectrum Disorder not only focus on learning subjects like English and Math, but include a variety of helpful techniques to teach students skills for everyday life.
Educational therapy methods can include the following:
Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-Handicapped Children (TEACCH): approach is based on the idea that people with autism do best with consistency and visual learning. This method provides professionals with ways to fine-tune the classroom structure to better improve academic outcomes. For example, giving instructions in different formats and using verbal and visual cues in the classroom to emphasize boundaries.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): Focusing on positive reinforcement and token systems (i.e., charts with gold stickers) the teacher will observes a behavior of a student with autism and then provide instructions on any missing skills. After providing instructions, a student is then rewarded for the correct response.
Sensory Integration: Aimed at helping students who face challenges with processing sensory input, sensory integration therapy helps children learn how to process and react to sensory stimulation more efficiently. As a result of this therapy implemented in an education setting, students may experience improved social connections with peers, more regulated emotions, and higher levels of academic success.
Schools can implement a variety of teaching methods to help individuals with autism feel more comfortable in the classroom and to reach new academic heights. And while it’s true that all individuals have different educational needs and learning styles, individuals with autism generally benefit from additional emotional, social, and sensory support in the classroom.
Some supportive methods include:
With the right support network and educational approach, individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder can experience academic achievement and truly enriching moments of self-discovery—both in the classroom and out! And while there may be bouts of trial-and-error to overcome before unearthing the most optimal treatment plan for an individual with ASD, the pieces will soon come together in time.