Thursday, April 11, 2013

Working with Children with Autism: Tips and Collaboration Ideas

I am SO excited about this post today!  To continue with Autism Awareness, I invited Sasha, over at The Autism Helper, to write a guest post about working with children with autism and their classroom teachers.  She teaches in a self-contained classroom with 10-14 year olds with autism! She is currently working on her Master's degree in Applied Behavior Analysis!

Working with Children with Autism: Although I am sure I could write an overly long book about this topic I would love to share - what I think - are the most important things to know and consider! SLPs are BEYOND important in the world of autism! In my mind, building communication is priority number one. Communication opens the door to a wide range of other skills, environments, and opportunities. 

My tips :) 

Collaborate with the Teacher: One of my favorite parts of my job is collaborating with the clinicians that work in my classroom. I love getting another perspective and having someone to bounce ideas off of. I have been very fortunate to have some amazing therapists to work with. These therapists have melded perfectly within our classroom dynamic. I appreciate a clinician who: respects our classroom schedule {it's there for a reason and my students know when they are supposed to have therapy and when they aren't}, asks my opinion {we are a team, right?!}, communicates with me, and is flexible {sometimes things just don't go as planned!}.

Teach the Teacher: Like I said, I love collaborating. Leave the classroom teacher suggestions for how to incorporate your ideas and techniques into the student's day to day schedule. Give realistic suggestions that are doable! Yes, I would love to embed a communication opportunity into each and every activity we do - but sometimes I just honestly don't have time with a full classroom on my hands. Don't be offended if your suggestions aren't immediately taken up :)

Understand and Use the Behavior Plan: This might actually be the most important point. Children with autism can sometimes have very challenging behavior. If the teacher is using a behavior intervention that is successful - use it! Consistency is beyond important when implementing some interventions and it is imperative that expectations stay constant throughout the student's day. If you have questions about the behavior plan - ask! Make sure you feel comfortable with the system. 

Reinforcement: This is probably important point #2! Really look at what reinforces each students' behavior (behavior meaning communication!). Some children with autism are not reinforced by social praise as many other children are. Some types of communication may be initially challenging for students with autism because the social attention the communication results in is not reinforcing to them! Social skills deficits are a diagnostic criteria of autism and is something that needs to be targeted! When working on social communication skills or other new communication skills, use high magnitude reinforcers! Let the student work for break time, iPad, snacks, etc. You can always fade it out later - but many times you will need this to develop new skills! The example I always use is - you wouldn't come to work if you didn't get paid, would you? Our students need a reason to work!

Keep it Structured: Since most children with autism struggle with communication, unfamiliar transitions or activities can be difficult for them because they do not know what to expect. Children with autism thrive when the environment is structured and routine based. Make sure to come at a regular time. Ease in new activities slowly to allow students to adjust and become familiar with the task expectations!

Less is More: I am probably preaching to the choir on this one - but so often with my students less is more when it comes to language. Even some of my highest functioning students, have deceivingly low receptive language. They are often good fakers and can play along like they understand. But many times they do not.

Sasha has a lot of great activities in her TpT store.  She is the queen of file folder activities :) She also has a Facebook page where she will post pictures, tips, and activities!  To see her website, click on the picture below: 

I hope you learned a lot from her!! I know I certainly did! I will definitely be implementing these strategies with some of my students.  

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