What are your autistic students experiencing? What might they be thinking? How might they be feeling? I can’t tell you what your autistic students want to know because I’m not autistic. Seeking the advice of autistic adults can truly help us understand what we should know and how we as parents and educators can help.
I can’t think of two better people to turn to than Lydia Wayman and Megan Amodeo. Lydia is an autistic writer, speaker, and advocate. She has an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education and a Masters in English and nonfiction writing. Megan is an autistic mom with three daughters, two of whom are on the autism spectrum. She has a degree in Special Education and taught several years at a multi-disabled, early childhood school.
Lydia and Megan use their personal experience and professional backgrounds to help parents and teachers better serve those with autism. Here are their 3 important keys to understanding your autistic students:
Don’t assume autistic students can’t achieve.
Lydia says before all else, presume competence in every student. “We’ll never achieve what we’ve never been challenged to try. Instead of asking if a child can achieve, ask yourself how a student can be supported to get there.”
Consider offering more time, extra repetitions, visual supports, assistive technology, creative teaching methods, or a different form of scaffolding (HINT: That last one? Use the student’s special interest!)
Lydia’s right. My son excelled when his teachers tapped into his special interests. One great example is allowing him to write one of his science test essays as a Star Trek script:
Captain’s log, Stardate/4192: Today was a black day for the Enterprise. I was beamed up with some colonists from Earth when Lieutenant Spock, my second in command said:
“Captain they appear to be experiencing a disease called polio.”
“Polio? Scotty beam them out!”
“I just cannot do it Captain. We don’t have the power.”
If you do click over to read, you’ll notice that my son has dysgraphia. He has difficulty expressing himself through the written word. Let him verbally respond to tests and you’ll have no doubt that he understands and retains what you taught him. He’ll even surprise you with his depth of knowledge and thoughtful analysis.
At his previous school, taking verbal tests weren’t an option. “It’s an unfair advantage,” the teachers would say, clearly dismissing his learning disabilities. But at the school he graduated from, those teachers let him write, talk, sing or perform his answers because it didn’t matter “how” he took a test. What mattered is if he understood what he was being taught.
Children with autism are often bullied without being aware of the bullying.
The Kennedy Krieger Institute did a study which showed that children with autism are bullied three times more frequently than their peers. Your autistic students may not be able to communicate what’s happening to them on the playground. They may not understand teasing, being ignored or left out of on purpose, taunting, or worse.
I encourage you to be proactive with your students to educate them about their autistic peers. Here are a few suggestions to help you foster a friendly, inclusive classroom:
- Start with “10 Rules for Teachers” on The Inclusive Class blog to make sure that you aren’t setting the tone for a bullying environment.
- Show Bluebee TeeVee Autism Information Station webisodes in class to teach kids about autism. Help students understand on a deeper level by trying some of the activities in the episode guides.
- Take steps to make sure your autistic students aren’t alone during recess. Create a “buddy culture” and give students the opportunity to be caring and compassionate. Our friendship kit is a case study on a successful Lunch Buddy Program.
We all want to be accepted and included.
Everyone wants to know they matter, even those with autism. There is a myth that the autistic are incapable of empathy and connection. Nothing could be further from the truth. A study highlighted in the Huffington Post showed that autistic individuals do have concern for others and love other people.
According to Megan, what you might interpret as cold or unemotional may just be behaviors someone with autism must do in order to block out uncomfortable sensory input. Lack of eye contact or repetitive behaviors (called stimming) are coping strategies not signs of disinterest.
Lydia Wayman says, “There are so many misconceptions about autism and autistic people, and many of them are based on these perspectives that differ radically from our own. To be on the autism spectrum is to be different… so, it’s impossible to understand our actions from a non-autistic perspective. Our behavior has to be viewed through the lens of our brains and bodies for it to be truly understood.”
Get more advice!
Lydia and Megan have more advice on what autistic students want you to know and we’ve put it into a PDF guide. If you are a parent, download the guide and share it with your child’s teachers. If you are an educator, we hope that their thoughtful words of wisdom with enlighten and inspire you.
Parents: Sign up for our FREE autism community membership and we’ll send you the guide plus you’ll get instant access to a bundle of great autism resources.
Teachers: Sign up for our educator list and you’ll get the guide immediately. We only use our educator email list to occasionally send out updates to our free autism awareness educational tools.