Simple Strategies That Can Help Support Children Who Have Autism

Updated on January 24, 2018
Elderberry Arts profile image

Claire studied autism, childhood and psychology at the Open University. She has 20 years experience caring for children with special needs.

Autism and other related conditions can be very complex to work with and can vary greatly between children. However, it is often the case that simple and straight forward approaches and strategies can be the most effective in producing positive results.

The following are some strategies that can be implemented in a classroom, home or other environment in order to support children who have autism.

Chart showing the British sign language finger spelling alphabet.
Chart showing the British sign language finger spelling alphabet. | Source

Strategies to Aid Communication With Children With ASD

  1. Aim to support communication where possible with visual supports and systems such as PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) or sign language (makaton, BSL or ASL). Often these alternative ways of communication are only considered when working with non-verbal children but they can also be of great benefit to others. Even if a child normally has good speech and communication skills, when they become stressed, over stimulated or over whelmed their ability to use their language skills may drop dramatically. By giving them another method of communication their stress levels can be reduced as they will not have the additional worry of having to form words and sentences to express themselves. If a child gets to the point where they cannot speak clearly or at all they will still be able to communicate their wishes and feelings. This in turn helps them feel less powerless and will hopefully resolve the situation faster and more positively.
  2. Technology such as text to speech software available for computers, ipads and other similar devices can be used with non-verbal children and to also support children who may have difficulty speaking in some situations, for example in front of the class, to unfamiliar adults or in public. Software that can convert speech into text is also available and can be a useful resource for children who struggle with writing or staying still to do so in conventional ways. Rather than having to sit at their desk they could use a dictaphone that can be carried with them to a quiet area away from the classroom for example.
  3. Keep all spoken instructions clear and precise. Try to give all instructions and suggestions using straight forward and logical language and remain aware that anything you say may be taken very literally.
  4. Avoid using sarcasm, metaphors, similes and idioms. This figurative language is often misinterpreted or simply not understood by children who have autism. This can lead to frustration at their lack of understanding and make them feel that you are not explaining properly. Misinterpretation can lead to mistakes which may then be upsetting or stressing to the child or others around them.

Strategies for Increasing Successfully Completed Tasks

  1. Try to set out tasks in a solid and concrete manner. Anything to abstract may be hard to understand or misinterpreted by a child with autism.
  2. Where possible ensure all tasks are achievable and give lots of praise, unless the attention upsets the child. In this case acknowledge the achievement but do not make too much of it.
  3. Short tasks may help to keep a child focused and cooperative over a longer period. Even small successes can be greatly pleasing and encourage the child to keep on trying. Large or complex tasks can leave a child feeling like it will never be finished or that they won’t be able to complete it. Children with autism may also have problems understanding the passage of time (even if they are able to tell the time) so it can be hard to help them see how long something will take or when it will be finished.
  4. When possible use a child’s own interests to motivate and encourage them. This technique can be used in a number of different ways. Special interests can be used as a reward or motivational tool as well as being used to engage a child in work or a task that they normally would avoid or be resistant too. Favourite characters can be printed on to worksheets for example, or books on a specific subject can be used to encourage reading.

Classrooms can be a positive or negative environment for children who have autism depending on how they arranged and how the children and adults act and react to them and each other.
Classrooms can be a positive or negative environment for children who have autism depending on how they arranged and how the children and adults act and react to them and each other. | Source

Strategies to Increase Social Skills for ASD Children

  1. Explain all rules using simple terms and make sure that they are understood, do not just assume a child understands what you mean or why a particular rule is in place.
  2. Social stories can be very useful tool in increase social awareness, teaching social skills, increasing confidence and in helping a child understand rules.
  3. Help a child to identify the good and bad choices in a situation. Talk about these after the choice has been made and explain why it was good or bad as necessary so the child will know in future.

Strategies to Encourage Positive Behaviour

  1. Explain all rules using simple terms and make sure that they are understood, do not just assume a child understands what you mean or why a particular rule is in place.
  2. Social stories can be very useful tool in increase social awareness, teaching social skills, increasing confidence and in helping a child understand rules.
  3. Help a child to identify the good and bad choices in a situation. Talk about these after the choice has been made and explain why it was good or bad as necessary so the child will know in future.

Strategies to Work with Sensory Issues

  1. Identity sensory likes and dislikes.
  2. Children vary greatly in how much sensory stimulation they can tolerate. Some children are very easily over stimulated whereas others may have a high tolerance and even seek out sensory stimulation. This can also vary between the different senses: a child may be very sensitive to be touched but love jumping, spinning and moving fast. Knowing a child’s sensory limits and helping them to also recognise these can aid providing an appropriate environment for them and avoiding unnecessary stress and upsets.
  3. Several therapies and techniques can be used to work with or too lessen sensory issues. Some examples of things that may help ease sensory overload include:
  • Listening to music
  • Wearing ear defenders
  • Using a weighted blanket
  • Wearing sunglasses
  • The feel of different textured materials
  • Using unscented body and cleaning products
  • Rocking
  • Swinging
  • ‘fidget items’
  • Dimming lights
  • Chewing on appropriate items

Questions & Answers

    © 2013 Claire

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      • Elderberry Arts profile image
        Author

        Claire 4 years ago from Surrey, Uk

        Thank you. My son is the same, he is ok as long as a lot of attention isn't drawn to him over it. He is always so worried about making mistakes.

      • thewritingowl profile image

        Mary Kelly Godley 4 years ago from Ireland

        Great advice. Will share on FB and vote up. Spot on too about praise, its hard to see if my son likes praise but there are very subtle signs that he does but as you say not over doing it is an acquired art.

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