Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) vary in severity of symptoms, skill level and ability to learn. The result is an increasing need to provide quality education for more and more students.
By definition, students with autism spectrum disorders have significant challenges in communication skills. Effective communication is a foundation for successful social interaction and appropriate behavior. Therefore, educational instruction must place a major emphasis on communication training. Target the skills a student needs to learn most.
1. Establishing a Social Connection
One of the most common observations of students with autism is that they do not engage well with other people. It is a myth that all children with autism are “in a world of their own.” Some are and do avoid social contact. Others may be socially indifferent or disconnected or socially awkward.
One of the most important areas to target for teaching is the student’s ability to engage with others. That is a foundation for effective communication and successful social participation.
2. Understanding Others
These students have significant challenges in understanding. They can have difficulty understanding the communication of others, interpreting social situations, or understanding the meaning of facial expressions and body language. They may not understand changes in routines or the rules for appropriate behavior.
It is common to hear someone describe a student by saying, “He understands everything I say.” That is generally not true. Many behavior problems and social skill challenges are the result of a student having difficulty understanding.
Helping students understand better is a critically important part of communication training. Using visual strategies is a highly effective way to give students information, provide structure in their lives, and teach the skills they need to learn.
3. Communicating Wants and Needs
Students must develop an effective, reliable way to let others know what they want and need. We all desire that students learn to talk, but that may not be the first goal. Some behavior challenges can come from the frustration of not being able to communicate effectively. Teaching another form of communication, such as pointing, first can help reduce that frustration.
Remember that communication is more than just speech. An effective communication system includes many forms: pointing, gestures, pictures, written language, and more. Teaching students to use a variety of forms can reduce their frustration and help them communicate more effectively to get their wants and needs met. Getting in their face, pushing buttons to set them off, is not productive communication.