What are some teaching strategies and evidence-based practices for children with autism?
The evidence-based practices below are teaching strategies, applicable to classroom settings, but can also be used in household teaching sessions, for example. Most of the listed evidence-based strategies are based on similar principles.
Various Learning Media
Engagement through different learning methods is also a valuable technique and teaching tool that can be used in and out of the classroom. As the exploration of new learning methods continues in the field of
autism education, different forms of learning continue to expand: tactile, auditory, verbal, and many more. More importantly, the expansion of technological usage and devices has expanded the discussion of engaging students through “distance learning” and such processes.
These methods can include technological interfaces that assist verbal communication, worksheets, or audio-based assignments—each of these provides a different type of sensory stimulation that can improve educational performance and social interaction.
At a young age, caregivers are primarily responsible for developing learning styles and allow for accommodations to grow based on the comfortability of each student. Moreover, the development of
academic support in order to include different learning styles improves executive functioning, allowing for academic potential to grow.
Gately’s reading comprehension practices provide a comprehensive list of strategies to enhance reading and literary outcomes. Hale and Wahlberg’s studies highlight multiple challenges such as global inferential thinking in reading comprehension and skills, especially with autistic children. To elaborate, inferential thinking can be classified into two strategies: global, which is similar to big-picture, thematic questions, and local, which is based on specific sections and isolation of smaller details within a text. Autistic children usually are much stronger in local inferential thinking, while having struggles in global inferential thinking. Multiple methods proposed by Gately can capitalize on students’ strengths: reciprocal teaching, social stories, and picture walks.
Reciprocal teaching is the idea of modeling storytelling through think-aloud-like strategies allowing for multiple sensory strategies for teaching students. Think-aloud strategies allow for teachers to support students in their understanding of text and monitor reading comprehension, and has often been used for ELL learners (English Language Learners), students who are learning English as a secondary, tertiary, or non-primary language. Such strategies allow for students to grow their own literacy levels by developing their own questions in regards to text inputs and understanding, demonstrating improvements in agency, autonomy, and self-dependence. Tovani’s study results echo the same impacts, with increasing literacy performance through multisensory inputs.
Mathematical and Scientific Practices
Rourke and Strang’s study regarding mathematical and scientific struggles and children with autism found multiple challenges: there were often concerns regarding operation signs, calculation disorganization, misunderstanding steps, and avoiding unfamiliarity. Instructional strategies can be used to support many of these struggles. Multiple studies, including Joseph et al. and Williams et al. have demonstrated practices for autistic children, including: direct instruction, goal structure, CRA, and Integrated Behavioral Experiential Teaching (IBET).
Direct instruction is a major strategy that has developed in multiple subjects, which involves direct prompting and guidance for learners. Examples include positive reinforcement and such strategies for problem solving in both the mathematical and scientific fields. Specifically for computational strategies, Van Houten and Rolider’s study on adolescents and children with autism and problem solving found that direct instruction strategies can produce better accuracy on tests, experiments and skills to resolve
Goal structure is focused on allowing for rewards and completion for mathematical tasks, as displayed by Fuchs et al. to test personal goal-setting. Rewards placed for strong performances, similar to direct instruction, led to intrinsic motivation forming afterwards.
CRA is known as concrete-representational-abstract has been used in fractions and data analysis, as shown in studies conducted by Miller and Mercer. Soon after there were figures including concrete examples, representation, and abstract depictions of the concept. Even in short periods of learning and teaching, there was a high mastery, approximately at 87%.
Integrated Behavioral Experiential Teaching (IBET) allows for a combination of the aforementioned tactics, including direct instruction, CRA, and various representations. Zager’s studies resulted in concrete experiences and more visual inputs that led to stronger instruction and better mathematical problem-solving skills.
Multiple studies have outlined some of the challenges that autistic individuals face, especially with sensory stimulation and self-regulation. Moreover, emotional attachment and a detached relationship between children and caregivers can cause many development struggles. However, systematic reviews regarding art therapy and imagery have been shown to produce stronger sensory experiences and facilitation of emotional attachment.
Art creation can allow for expression that can be soothing socially and emotionally, with repetitive, routine, artistic expression. The individual is able to utilize nonverbal tools to facilitate social skills of
communications. Durrani’s group of case studies have shown similar results with the creation of safe and predictable schedules. Moreover, breaks given often, along with being able to make independent choices, both in agreement and rejection, eventually developed many sessions with an onset of artistic practices in instruction.
Rozema describes a specific type of artistic tool: manga and the art of Japanese comics to combine teachings about literature and art. The “image-rich medium” of manga enables visual processing, which is often favored in comparison to word/text processing for students with autism. Scott McCloud’s analysis of emotions in manga are also quite important; based on the challenges that autstic children often face, manga resonates because the facial expressions have little ambiguity, with six primary emotions that can be expressed: anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, and surprise. While some of these can be mixed (McCloud explains using the example of anger and sadness to portray betrayal), manga art relies on caricatures of solely the primary emotions. Rozema outlines that those with ASD obviously have individual choices, but the stylistic techniques make manga more appealing to the general autistic mind/thinker.
The co-teaching classroom is a generally new phenomenon that is developing in resourceful school districts. Gupta and Henninger describe that such inclusive practices can cut costs empirically for schools and districts that conduct co-teaching. Even further, Mavropalias, Deligianni, and Symeonidou of the University of Western Macedonia provide additional evidence describing stronger skill development, better social skills, and intellect development for neurotypical peers. While teachers reported some struggles in supporting students with ASC, they also felt that if schools provided enough resources to learn, most teachers were willing to be trained to support autistic children in their classrooms.