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Things You Should Know about Autism and Special Education

Understanding the varying degrees of autism spectrum disorder, and how to best enable a student’s ability to reach their full learning potential, is paramount to being a successful special education teacher.

Here are the top things every special education teacher should know about autism:

Problems with social interaction are a very common symptom of autism.

Impaired social interaction is the trait that most children with autism share, but there is a wide range of autistic behaviors, and kids can have varying combinations of symptoms. In addition to the well-known symptoms such as lack of language skills, failing to make eye contact, and lack of response to their name, there are a number of symptoms that may indicate having ASD as a child gets older.

  • An inability to make friends or interact socially with other kids
  • Lack of normal conversational skills -- i.e., starting or continuing a conversation
  • Repeating phrases or repeating things from memory instead of coming up with original statements
  • Obsessive-compulsive tendencies, such as having to line objects up in a certain way, or being incapable of deviating from a routine

Although language problems are often cited as an indicator for autism, it’s important to know that not all children with autism struggle with their language skills. This generally depends on where they fall on the autism spectrum. For instance, Asperger syndrome is an ASD where the child generally has normative language development and skills, but struggles in other areas, such as social interactions. Advanced degrees focused on autism can help teachers decipher the nuances of the spectrum.

Kids with autism can easily be over stimulated.

Another common theme with kids who have autism is that they can easily become overwhelmed by sensory stimuli they cannot process as other children would. Everyday activities such as recess on the playground or a trip to the cafeteria can potentially cause a meltdown from overstimulation. The best way to deal with this is to keep track of triggers and adapt classroom strategies that reduce occurrences.

Kids with autism tend to be visual learners.

Just because kids with autism struggle with language doesn't mean they are unreachable. They are often visual learners; using strong visual tools and activities can help you get through to your students. You can convert other things into visual experiences, too. For instance, children with autism benefit from a visual schedule that helps them know what to expect from their day.

For example, 20 to 30 percent of kids with autism will also have epilepsy. Other examples of conditions that are often co-exist with autism are learning disabilities, ADD, and Tourette syndrome. A Master’s in Special Education enables teachers to better understand a wide range of conditions and research based strategies for successful intervention.

Early diagnostic benefits treatment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every 88 children under the age of 10 years old has an ASD, which works out to be slightly more than one percent of kids. Boys are four times more likely than girls to be autistic. For this reason, it is incredibly important for you, as a teacher, to watch for signs of autism in your students. Once a child is diagnosed, the sooner they start getting speech therapy, social training, and medications (if necessary), the more successful their treatment will be.

Teens with autism often encounter depression or behavioral problems as they go through adolescence, so secondary special education teachers should pay close attention to their autistic students for signs that their treatment might need to be adjusted to help get them through this difficult time. Being a positive influence and a solid role model can make a lasting impact on your student’s lives.

Autism doesn't mean a child can't do great things.

The most important thing to remember is that autism doesn't mean a child isn't smart, or won't go on to do great things later in life. Scientists now believe that some of our greatest minds -- people like Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, and Mozart -- may have had a form of autism.

As a special education teacher, you care about your students, so it makes sense that you would want to give them the best chance possible to live an outstanding life. The best way to do this is to know as much as possible about common conditions such as autism and other special needs.