According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as one in 50 school-age children have been diagnosed with some form of autism. What is autism? Autism alters how nerve cells and their synapses connect and organize in the brain, affecting information processing. As a disorder of neural development, autism is characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior.
Characteristics of children with autism vary widely depending on where they are on the autism spectrum. For example, children with Asperger’s do not have significant cognitive delays, while children with most other forms of autism do. Autistic infants respond less to their own name, pay less attention to social stimuli, and smile and look at others less often than neurotypical infants. When they reach the stage between three and five years old, autistic children are less likely to exhibit social understanding, imitate and respond to emotions, approach others spontaneously, communicate non-verbally, and take turns with others.
Because of these challenges, it is important that children with autism attend a school where the staff are experienced in teaching special needs children. Special needs schools cater to students who have severe learning difficulties, physical disabilities, or behavioral problems. Because special education programs should be customized to each student’s individual needs, all special needs students receive an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that outlines how the school will meet the student’s unique needs.
There are many different techniques for teaching special needs children that various instructors may utilize. Clear, consistent schedules and organized classrooms are important factors to a child’s success. Keeping lessons short and concise can prevent a child from becoming frustrated and acting out. Providing some students with a specific responsibility such as watering a plant can help them focus.
Teaching special needs children can be a challenge, but a patient teacher with the right resources can make all the difference in a child’s life. Finding the right program for special education from preschool to high school is one of the most important things a parent can do for a child that needs it.