At a seminar in 2012, Sue Larkey, Autism Education expert, shared these 10 tips for working with children on the Autism Spectrum.
1. Not all strategies work for every child, and not all strategies work all of the time. If it’s not working, move on and try something else
2. No=never. The word “no” can trigger a meltdown. If you say no, and you mean not now, don’t say no. You say no, they hear “never”. A day after the seminar my son illustrated this very point. He was writing his grandad’s birthday card. He couldn’t fit the whole of a word on one line so I told him that he could use a hyphen and finish the word on the next line. He got very upset and wanted to scribble the word out and start again. When I asked him why he told me his teacher said that he wasn’t allowed to split the word up. So he applied that rule to all situations.
3. You cannot stop a behaviour. Each behaviour serves a function, so replace the behaviour with another behaviour. For instance if a child constantly chews their clothes, replace this with a sensory toy designed for chewing. This will help the child stay calm and concentrate. To just stop them without replacing the behaviour with an alternative will cause the child anxiety and make matters worse.
4. A sensory meltdown is different to a behaviour meltdown. There is no warning and it strongly triggers the fight or flight mechanism in the brain. It is a catastrophic reaction to social or sensory experiences. If they run and don’t look back it is sensory and no amount of rewards or bribery will work with them. They need comforting or solitude until they calm down. Don’t tell them to calm down as the meltdown may escalate, or ask them what’s wrong as they can’t tell you. A behaviour meltdown is different as it is a response to frustration, and will often end with emotional blackmail (!). The child is assertive and calm during this time. If you are unsure of difference, Sue says, look in their eyes.
5. Children on the spectrum are often multisensory or kinaesthetic learners (also called tactile learners) and respond to multisensory and hands on learning. They often concentrate better while playing with a fidget toy or moving around. They also respond better to rote and repetitive learning, and not problem solving learning, which schools have been moving towards.
6. Their intellect is their vanity. They may have the ideas and have done the work in their head, but may be slow to put onto paper. Do not humiliate them by telling them they have done no work. Get someone else to be their scribe or use Dragon Dictation software.
7. Some children with ASD have a “veneer of coping” during school or social events. They are exhausted trying to be good, social and jovial, but when they get home they just want to relax and unwind. If any demands are put on them during this time, they may go into meltdown. This can be a problem when homework is expected.
8. During school, their should be a ratio of 25 minutes schoolwork, 5 minutes of special interest. This will serve as a reward, but also allows them to relax and refresh before moving on to further school work. At home, home is for relaxation so the ratio should be 25 minutes relaxation to 5 minutes work or chores. But for those children who have a veneer of coping, homework may be a step too far, so maybe an arrangement can be made where they do homework at school.
9. When children know the routine and are relaxed, you don’t always need to continue using all strategies all the time. Use common sense when to use and when not to.
10. Consequences do not work for children on the spectrum.