Effective Autism Teaching Strategies

Enhance learning with effective autism teaching strategies, from visual aids to individualized programs.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
April 17, 2024

Effective Autism Teaching Strategies

Teaching Strategies for Autism

Understanding and implementing effective autism teaching strategies is critical in setting students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) up for success in school. These strategies must address unique challenges that students with ASD face, and offer individualized accommodations to ensure an inclusive learning environment.

Challenges in School Activities

Students with ASD often face distinct challenges in school activities. These challenges can include social interactions, noisy environments, intense sensory stimulation, and changes in expected routines. Unstructured parts of the school day often present the greatest challenges [1].

Additionally, many students with ASD have difficulty with fine motor skills such as using a pencil and paper for writing. Challenges with organization and maintaining schedules can also be significant hurdles for these students.

Challenges Examples
Social Interactions Group activities, peer interactions
Sensory Stimulation Noisy environments, bright lights
Routines & Transitions Changes in schedule, transitions between activities
Fine Motor Skills Handwriting tasks
Organization Keeping track of assignments, maintaining a clean workspace

Individualized Accommodations

To help students with ASD overcome these challenges, individualized accommodations should be implemented. These accommodations should be tailored to each student's needs, considering their strengths, areas for improvement, and personal preferences. It's crucial to involve both the student and their family in deciding the most effective strategies. This collaborative approach ensures that the selected methods align well with the student's home environment and are supported by their family.

Students with ASD often prefer learning with authoritative adults in small group or one-on-one settings. They may also find peer interaction motivating. Importantly, they tend to be visual learners, benefitting greatly from new or difficult content being presented in a variety of ways, particularly when shown what to do.

Individualized Accommodations Examples
Learning Environment Small group settings, one-on-one instruction
Teaching Methods Visual learning, hands-on tasks
Social Interaction Structured peer interactions
Routine & Structure Consistent schedule, clear rules and expectations

Implementing these autism teaching strategies can go a long way in creating an inclusive and supportive school environment for students with ASD. By recognizing the challenges these students face and offering tailored accommodations, educators can ensure they are setting their students up for academic success.

Evidence-Based Practices

When it comes to autism teaching strategies, evidence-based practices (EBPs) are an essential component in ensuring effective learning outcomes. These strategies are both scientifically validated and proven effective through rigorous testing and research.

Selecting Effective Strategies

According to federal laws such as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA '04), educators are mandated to use evidence-based academic and behavioral practices and programs for children with autism.

The National Professional Development Center (NPDC) on Autism Spectrum Disorder has identified 27 evidence-based practices for improving outcomes for students with autism [3]. These practices provide a solid foundation for educators when developing autism teaching strategies.

When selecting EBPs for children with autism, educators and practitioners should follow a four-step process (IRIS):

  1. Clearly define the target behavior.
  2. Collect baseline data.
  3. Indicate the goal in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP).
  4. Determine which EBPs can address the target behavior.

This process ensures a systematic approach in selecting the most effective and relevant strategies for each child.

Implementing and Monitoring EBPs

Once the appropriate EBPs have been selected, the next step is to implement these strategies effectively. Educators and practitioners should ensure that an EBP is implemented with fidelity, meaning that it is delivered as intended.

Monitoring the effectiveness of the EBP is also crucial. This can be achieved through consistent data collection, which allows for an accurate assessment of whether the strategy is working or if adjustments need to be made.

If there is no change in the behavior, it may be necessary to consider changing the practice or adding additional evidence-based practices. This iterative process ensures that the strategies employed are always the most effective for each individual child.

In addition to these EBPs, high-leverage practices (HLPs) can be used with students with autism. These include small-group instruction, functional behavior assessments, peer-assisted strategies, and organized and supportive learning environments.

In conclusion, the use of evidence-based practices and high-leverage practices in autism teaching strategies is not only mandated by law but is also instrumental in enhancing learning outcomes for children with autism. By selecting, implementing, and monitoring these practices effectively, educators can provide the best possible education for students with autism.

High-Leverage Practices

High-leverage practices (HLPs) are critical for the effective teaching of students with autism. Two specific HLPs, small-group instruction and functional behavior assessments, have been found to be particularly beneficial in autism education.

Small-Group Instruction

Small-group instruction is one of the most effective autism teaching strategies. Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) tend to prefer learning with authoritative adults in small groups or one-on-one settings, and they find peer interaction motivating. They are also visual learners and benefit greatly from new or difficult content being presented in a variety of ways, especially by being shown what to do.

Moreover, explicit instruction is crucial for students with ASD to gain skills that other students might pick up without effort. Teachers should provide clear, simple instructions regarding expectations, even if they seem obvious to others. Young students might need instruction in how to pretend play, and older students may need clear directions related to classroom setup.

Furthermore, establishing routines and including instructional breaks are essential elements in supporting students with ASD. Teachers can redirect harmful routines by establishing helpful routines with students. Breaks can help reduce sensory input and focus the students' attention. A visual timer and/or visual schedule can support neurodiverse learners.

Functional Behavior Assessments

Another important HLP is the use of functional behavior assessments. Many disruptive behaviors in students with ASD are due to sensory discomfort. Teachers can help eliminate barriers to learning by helping students identify sensory inputs that are impeding them or that they are seeking.

Functional behavior assessments can help teachers understand the causes and effects of a student's behavior, and can be used to develop strategies for managing and redirecting that behavior. By understanding a student's behavior and its triggers, teachers can design a learning environment that minimizes disruptive behaviors and enhances learning. This approach empowers students with ASD to participate more fully in their education and helps them develop crucial self-regulation skills.

In conclusion, both small-group instruction and functional behavior assessments are high-leverage practices that can significantly enhance the educational experience for students with autism. By incorporating these strategies into their teaching, educators can provide students with ASD the support they need to thrive both inside and outside the classroom.

Visual Supports

Visual supports are critical tools within the framework of autism teaching strategies. They offer a concrete and reliable way for individuals with autism to interpret and navigate their world.

Importance and Benefits

Visual supports can play a transformative role in the lives of individuals with autism. They provide structure and routine, encourage independence, build confidence, improve understanding, and reduce frustration and anxiety. Moreover, these tools provide opportunities for individuals to interact with others, making communication physical and consistent, unlike spoken words.

Visual supports give children a sense of autonomy by allowing them to make choices and express their needs. They can help children comprehend daily rhythms, navigate transitions, and have input in their activities. Furthermore, visual aids can open lines of communication between children with autism and their caretakers [5].

Types and Implementation

Visual supports come in various forms including tactile symbols/objects of reference, photographs, short videos, miniatures of real objects, colored pictures, plain squares of colored card, line drawings, symbols, and written words. These can be real objects, printed images, or electronically displayed on devices like smartphones, tablets, or computers.

These supports can be used in numerous ways, such as creating daily timetables, schedules, sequences, or reward charts. They can be used to illustrate social stories or comic strip conversations, or to express opinions or preferences through symbols like thumbs down [4].

For visual supports to be effective, they need to be portable, durable, easy to find, personalized, and consistent. For example, using visual support apps on tablets, laminating printed supports, ensuring they are easy to access and personalized to individual preferences can enhance their effectiveness.

To introduce visual supports, it is recommended to start gradually, beginning with one symbol and then building up a collection. Consistency is crucial in terms of style and type, and it's vital to involve family members, friends, teachers, or support workers to ensure they're used consistently as well.

In summary, visual supports are an essential element in autism teaching strategies. By providing a tangible and consistent form of communication, they can significantly enhance the learning experience for individuals with autism.

Sensory Sensitivities

Understanding sensory sensitivities in individuals with autism is crucial to provide effective autism teaching strategies. These sensitivities can significantly impact learning and require specific regulation strategies.

Impact on Learning

Sensory processing differences in individuals with autism can lead to being oversensitive or undersensitive to stimuli such as noise, light, clothing, or temperature. These variations can affect how they experience the world around them, potentially causing sensory overload and difficulties with sensory modulation, such as feeling overwhelmed by too much information, including eye contact [6].

These sensory differences can create anxiety which may lead to unexpected behaviors or behaviors of concern. For instance, what seems tolerable to individuals without autism, such as sounds or lights, might be unbearable for those on the spectrum, leading to feelings of agitation or discomfort.

Research conducted by the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University has shown that adults with autism experience synaesthesia almost three times more than the general population. Synaesthesia can result in experiences where a sensation in one sensory channel, like hearing a sound, is experienced in another sensory channel, such as seeing a color [6].

Strategies for Sensory Regulation

Occupational Therapists (OTs) and other professionals, such as dietitians and speech therapists, can assist individuals with autism in managing their environments, coping with sensory sensitivities, learning continence training, maintaining focus, and developing motor coordination and balance. They can also help individuals with taste, textural, and smell sensitivities that affect eating or swallowing [6].

Creating strategies to help individuals with autism develop a sense of pain can be critical, as they may not always notice pain or discomfort. This can manifest in behaviors like not recognizing when an object is too hot, or not being able to explain feelings of discomfort.

To manage sensory overload that can result in stress, anxiety, physical pain, withdrawal, distressed behavior, or meltdowns, small changes to the environment can make a significant difference. Creating a sensory profile may help determine necessary adjustments [7].

For hypersensitive or hyposensitive autistic individuals, strategies include reducing fluorescent lighting, providing sunglasses, using blackout curtains, creating a workstation with high walls in the classroom, using visual supports, and providing ear plugs and music for sound sensitivities.

With sensory differences related to sight, under-sensitivity may result in blurred central vision, while over-sensitivity may cause distorted vision with objects appearing to jump around. Environmental modifications like reducing fluorescent lighting and providing sunglasses can be beneficial.

Under-sensitive smell perceptions may lead to no sense of smell, and over-sensitive individuals may find odors intense and overpowering, leading to toileting problems. Strategies involve using unscented detergents, avoiding perfumes, and maintaining a fragrance-free environment.

The sensory differences related to touch in autistic individuals can vary from under-sensitive to over-sensitive. Those under-sensitive may exhibit behaviors like holding others tightly, whereas over-sensitive individuals may find touch painful and uncomfortable. Helpful strategies include offering alternatives for handling textures and allowing individuals to wear comfortable clothing [7].

Implementing these strategies for sensory regulation can play a crucial role in creating a conducive learning environment for individuals with autism, significantly impacting their overall learning experience and development.

Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)

Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are an essential aspect of autism teaching strategies. These programs are designed to offer special education assistance to children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), considering the extent of support required by each child can vary significantly [8].

Least Restrictive Environment

One of the key principles of IEPs is the concept of the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). LRE emphasizes that individuals with disabilities should be educated together with their peers without disabilities to the greatest extent possible.

In the context of IEPs for students with ASD, this means that accommodations are often made to enable these students to stay in general education classrooms. This approach promotes inclusivity and provides students with ASD the opportunity to learn and interact within a diverse environment.

Ongoing Review and Support

IEPs are not static; they are subject to periodic review to ensure they continue to meet the student’s needs as they progress through their educational advancement and treatment courses. Such reviews are crucial as about ten percent of kids with autism show dramatic improvement by their teen years, impacting the level and type of support they require.

Moreover, IEPs often support applied behavior analysis services outside of school when these therapies are deemed beneficial to the student’s progress in school. As most parents of children with autism understand, finding the right approach to engage these kids and manage their behavior can require a lot of experimentation.

In conclusion, IEPs embody the principle of personalized education, ensuring that each student with ASD receives the support they need. By adhering to the concept of LRE and committing to ongoing review and support, IEPs contribute to creating an inclusive and supportive learning environment for students with ASD.


[1]: https://www.washington.edu/doit/what-are-typical-challenges-and-accommodations-students-autism-spectrum-disorder

[2]: https://www.graduateprogram.org/2021/01/the-challenges-students-with-autism-face/

[3]: https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/module/asd2/cresource/q1/p02/

[4]: https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/topics/communication/communication-tools/visual-supports

[5]: https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/benefits-of-autism-visual-supports/

[6]: https://thespectrum.org.au/autism-strategy/autism-strategy-sensory/

[7]: https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/topics/sensory-differences/sensory-differences/all-audiences

[8]: https://www.appliedbehavioranalysisedu.org/how-are-ieps-designed-for-students-with-asd/