Autism Awareness Month:
Tips for Working with Individuals
on the Autism Spectrum
Compiled by Indiana Resource Center Autism and Autism Society of Indiana
Remember that each person is different, and specific tips may not apply to all.
- Many capable individuals on the autism spectrum have significant organizational difficulties. For example, these individuals will often complete their homework but forget to turn it in. Expecting organizational skills to simply improve over time will not be as effective as putting support strategies in place, such as written checklists and reminders, while providing direct guidance and instruction. Eventually, the person can be taught to generate their own checklists and reminders.
- Teach your child/students how to advocate for their own needs. This skill will become essential as they transition from school to the adult world. It could be as simple as teaching them to request their favorite food by handing you a picture, or for someone with more verbal skills to explain their communication and accommodation needs to their college professor.
- When making changes in plans and strategies, call parents (not email) to talk over ideas. Ask them to help prepare the student/child for the plan too.
- Remember to take baseline data before starting a new evidence-based practice. This will assist in determining the effectiveness of the strategy and in shifting instructional approaches as needed.
- When teaching a new skill or behavior, address student motivation by using highly motivating reinforcers. Highly motivating reinforcers may include fixations or fascinations. Be sure all staff know what skill is being reinforced and how often. Be consistent.
- For parents/caregivers: Keep a record of treatment options you try and how your child responds to each one.
- For professionals: Remember to individualize visual supports you create to match the student’s abilities and interests. Do not overwhelm with visual supports. Make sure each serves a real purpose.
- Remember that, particularly for persons who do not communicate verbally, their behavior is a form of communication. Try to determine the pattern of behavior. Think "outside the box." If you are stumped, ask other parents and professionals what might be the underlying cause(s) of behaviors.
- Know that just because your child/student may be nonverbal, he or she is still able to hear and understand what you and others say around them. Make sure all messages are as positive as possible.
- It is important to teach individuals on the autism spectrum how to think socially and interact successfully with others. As with all people, this should begin as early as possible. Help individuals on the autism spectrum establish connections with others by developing appropriate social scripts and routines, and by supporting them to interact with others on a daily basis. This will assist social and emotional development which is critical for all people.
- Breaks and calming strategies should be considered as part of the daily routine for many individuals on the autism spectrum. A pre-determined routine should be implemented on a daily basis to ease anxiety. Breaks and calming techniques are needed before an individual on the autism spectrum gets overwhelmed. This very respectful and proactive approach will help build self-esteem and confidence, and reduce anxiety.
- ASD is often described as a deficit in empathy, but increasingly research is discovering that this may not be at the heart of the condition. Overwhelming sensory input in young children can heighten fear and sensory issues. As a result, the child/student on the autism spectrum may develop repetitive behaviors and might increasingly fail to respond to relevant stimulation for social and language development. Therefore, it is critical that sensory issues are identified and strategies implemented as early as possible.
- Many times an individual with ASD will display undesirable behavior due to the lack of ability to communicate. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) refers to communication methods that help or replace speaking or writing, and assist in producing or comprehending spoken or written language. If a child with autism is having difficulty communicating or being understood, they may benefit from some type of AAC. It is your right as a parent to ask your child’s teacher for an AAC evaluation or to question if and how your child could benefit from AAC. If you child is not talking by 18-30 months, he/she should have some type of AAC.
- Help your child with self-help activities such as getting dressed, eating breakfast, and brushing teeth. Create routines by doing these activities at the same time and in the same way every day. Break down the task into small steps. Show pictures of each step. You can also pretend to do the activity yourself, saying the next step out loud or even singing songs with directions. Make it fun.
- Help your child play with others. Teach them to share and to take turns through use of visuals, modeling, prompting, and practice. Host a play date at your house. By playing at your house, your child has more control over the activities. You can also control the amount and type of stimulation. When your child shares and takes turns appropriately, praise and reinforce his or her great behavior.
- When trying to foster friendships for teens or adults with ASD, connecting them with people who have similar interests (e.g., attending a Japanese Anime conference or enrolling in a chess club) is likely to be more effective than attempting to teach them to interact around interests that seem more typical for their age group, such as team sports.
- If a student is not able to perform a task, consider whether the request is too abstract. For example, telling a student to write a story about something that interests them is very abstract. One strategy is to provide specific choices.
- Uncertainty creates anxiety that, in turn, reduces the person’s ability to attend and learn. It also increases the risk of tantrums, rage, and meltdowns. Individuals on the autism spectrum need reassurance and information about upcoming events and changes.
- Much of our efforts with individuals on the spectrum becomes a balancing act. For example, many will need accommodations. The challenge becomes determining how much to accommodate without accommodating them so much that options in the future are eliminated.
- Individuals on the spectrum will read our emotional level about a situation. Use a calm tone of voice, even in the midst of a behavioral outburst. Excited adults yield excited children. Practice your poker face.
- Acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of yourself (regardless of your role), of all family members, and of the individual whether they are small or large. For some on the autism spectrum, small steps are a major accomplishment. Be proud and remember that all accomplishments are important. Also, family members, don’t forget to acknowledge the accomplishments of your other children and spouse or partner whether large or small.
For more information on the Indiana Resource Center for Autism, visit our website at https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca. Also be sure to “like” IRCA on Facebook and join us on Twitter and Pinterest.
For more information on the Autism Society of Indiana, visit their website at http://www.autismsocietyofindiana.org/. Also be sure to “like” ASI on Facebook and join them on Twitter.