Circle of Friends is the best way to help kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder [ASD]. Students with ASD generally have language, communication, social and cognitive skills problems. Interaction with other students can be encouraged by growing a ‘circle of friends’ through various activities which allow students on the Spectrum to have social interaction and friends. Warber, A. (2015).
Parents are key in any teacher-student relationship especially for students on the Spectrum. Have a heart to heart chat with the student’s mother in order to build long-term relations. Share in a positive way the difficulties you face while teaching her child. Let her know that you really want to assist her child and ask for assessments and reports that the student may have undergone. Study these to create a plan of action, moving forward together with parent, child, and specialists. Make a list of the student’s strengths based on the individual difference. Keep in mind that every child has a strength whether he is mentally challenged or any other challenge. Maybe the child is extremely caring, loving, attention seeker and any other attribute. Find creative ways to utilise this in the classroom.
Develop a student’s profile to increase staff understanding of an individual child. Educate teachers and peers through training and strategies to utilise friendship circles. I attended a Student’s on the Autism Spectrum Conference in Melbourne 2017, where a student with ASD spoke about the benefits of his ‘circle of friends’ at school, as the number one strategy that got him through to adulthood. His specialist teacher, one of the main speakers at the conference confirmed this. Encourage this by having a special meeting together with you once a week or fortnight during a lunch period. Play games, chat, do something special together at times.
Students with ASD do have barriers to learning but nothing is impossible. Mostly they gain knowledge with visual aids, therefore, create a visual schedule and implement it with the student and his/her circle of friends. First, make Analysis of the concept you want to deliver, and then synthesize it. For example, break the concepts into chunks so that the student can be better able to understand the smaller parts of the whole. Introducing a timetable would definitely help the student plan for what to do next. Use timers clearly to show how long the activity will last. I have used large sand timers to make it visual in a big way and fun with coloured sand, while the student completes a given activity within the given time frame. This increases the student’s productivity with relation to time and their success in your class.
Set up a behaviour plan as it’s important to pick up the early signs and have a designated area where the student can go if he/she has a meltdown. He/she can rejoin the class when they have had time to cool down and you the teacher can allow them to rejoin the class calmly. It makes the child feel assured and safe and keeps your class functioning smoothly as well. This can have a ripple effect. As all the eyes of the other students are observing you carefully, how you treat this one student in your class. Students learn how to treat others who are different from the way you do. Lakhani, K. (2016). Have regular meetings with his/her circle of friends maybe once a week at lunchtime and have them role play positive behaviours. Make sure you make it fun! Don’t ever be aggressive with students on the Spectrum. Try to keep cool even when the student is behaving rudely. Never ever punish the student with ASD in front of other students. This would be the same for any student in your care.
Always give fewer choices to students with ASD because many choices require more attention and time which is difficult for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. For example, if a student is asked to pick up the right color for mango, give him/her only two choices like yellow and blue. Moreover, give very clear choices and preferably not too many open-ended forms of questions. Always use short and to the points sentences to ensure clarity. Use a variety of presentation, especially visual aids in your teaching, as this will not only aid the students with ASD but also any other student in your class.
All work given to a student with Autism Spectrum Disorder must be realistically achievable within a given time. Identify and use the student’s strengths or special interest when planning an activity. Use reward and motivation in order to encourage the child to continue his performance but don’t overdo it. Help students on with ASD to be organised by using colour coding of some form in your classroom. For example, color all science books with blue and label all science equipment with a blue sticker. Continue with the other subjects, coding each subject a different colour.
Plan and consider your course of action when a student with Autism Spectrum Disorder enters your class. Consider your student’s needs and figure out which teaching strategies best suit his/her needs. Pay attention to how the student responds to each teaching method. It may take a combination of teaching methods to satisfy the student’s needs. It all depends on student’s needs, your relationship with that student and how the relationships within the circle of friends has developed. See references below for further details and add comments if you wish.