Autism inhibits an individual’s ability to communicate effectively with others. While there is no cure for autism, its characteristics can be controlled and modified with sustained training.
As with every other disorder, the degree of autism also varies among children. While some are acutely affected, others show only borderline effects. So, a one-size-fits-all approach may not work, especially with regards to teaching autistic children.
For example, there are high-functioning autistic children who are very good in certain streams of academics. Teaching such children may require a different approach than teaching children with average abilities.
“A lot of times autism in children is accompanied by other associated problems such as behavioural issues or physical ailments. So, apart from academic learning, they may require sustained professional help in areas such as speech therapy, physiotherapy, sensory integration, etc.” — *Mr A Rameshbabu
While some autistic children can be enrolled in mainstream schools and require just a little extra guidance, others may require specialised training and an environment that takes care of their individual needs. There are several institutes that offer specialised training for autistic children. However, sometimes parents may feel the need to teach their autistic child at home. It could either be due to behavioural issues of the child or physical ailments. In such a scenario, home-schooling becomes the obvious choice.
“Parents of autistic children should decide about the mode of schooling based on the cognitive abilities of their children. Sometimes, certain autistic children are unable to carry out even simple daily activities. Or, they could have other physical ailments which may require them to stay at home. Parents of such children may generally opt for the home-schooling method.” — Mr A Rameshbabu
If you are a parent who has decided to home-school your child, then here are some tips to make learning enjoyable as well as rewarding for your little one.
1. Curriculum: Before you start home-schooling your child, decide which curriculum you would like to follow. Some autistic children are not be able to progress at the same pace as other children. For such children, it is better to consult a special educationist to draw up the curriculum, which could be an integration of elements from different school boards.
2. Study area: Organise the study area well and create a distraction-free zone so that the child has minimum confusion and is able to focus better on studies. Make the study area colourful and appealing.
3. Variety in learning: Autistic children have the tendency to repeat and fixate their attention on concepts that catch their attention. Help your child overcome this tendency by bringing about variety in her learning experiences. Include activities covering all subjects such as maths, science, social science and languages on all days. Create a timetable for the week or month ahead and make sure you leave time for frequent revisions.
4. Visual aids: Make ample use of visual teaching aids as they are likely to capture your child’s attention and sustain his interest. The visual quotient of teaching aids should be much higher than those used for other children, even for autistic children who are in their teens. You can either create these aids at home (for example, cut-outs of fruits and vegetables, abacus with colourful beads, DIY toys to teach scientific concepts, etc.). Or, you can purchase good quality educational CDs available in the market; these have interesting activities to teach concepts.
5. Music: Autistic children are also very receptive to music. So, try to include elements of music in your teaching. This can involve playing nursery rhymes as well as other educational songs that teach different concepts. The Internet is the best place to search for such resources.
6. Natural aptitude: Try to tap your child’s potential. Ask your child which subjects he loves to study the most and devote more time and attention to those subjects. Over the years, you will be able to determine your child’s aptitude. While some autistic children have a flair for arts and crafts, others may be good at music. Let your child pursue his passion if he has one.
7. Language skills: In most cases, language skills are not a strong point with autistic children. Helping them develop the ability to comprehend stories and coherently narrate events in correct sequence may prove to be difficult; sometimes, even your best efforts for a prolonged period may not yield satisfactory results. Therefore, it is important not to lose patience and be persistent. Also, keep trying out new and innovative methods to tell stories in a way that would captivate your child’s attention.
8. Learning opportunities outside the home: Do not restrict your child’s learning activities to the home environment. Enrol her in classes that provide opportunities of interaction with peers in a controlled manner under the supervision of adults. Engage tutors who are skilful in handling children with special needs and have the right attitude. Interacting with individuals outside the immediate family circle will motivate an autistic child to learn better and prove to be important for her overall well-being.
9. Integrated learning: Take your child to different places such as the grocery store, playground, and other places in the neighbourhood. Try to create opportunities of interaction with people you meet on the way. You can integrate learning with such encounters. For example, you can teach basic mathematical concepts by making your child check the bills of your purchase at the supermarket.
Children with autism possess a personality that is different from normal children and need to be handled in a different manner. So, along with following these tips for home-schooling your child, also consult specialists in the field for guidance regarding your child’s unique learning needs.
*Mr A Rameshbabu is a senior special educator associated with The Spastics Society of Tamil Nadu, who has wide experience in handling children with special learning needs.
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