Next week is World Autism Awareness Day: a day that means a lot to me. This year is the first year, in many years, that I have not taught a student with autism. Last year, I rewrote one of my favourite texts, All I Really Need To Know, I Learned In Kindergarten, to share how teaching students with autism have made me a better teacher. This year I’m going to do something different. I realized this year that many strategies that I used when teaching students with autism, really benefit all students. So here’s the updated version of my take on All I Really Need To Know, I Learned In Kindergarten.
All I Really Need To Know About How To Be A Better Teacher, I Learned From Teaching Students With Autism: Version 2
All I really need to know about how to be a better teacher, I learned from teaching students with autism. Even though I don’t teach any students with autism this year, here are the things that I learned that continue to influence my teaching:
- Routines matters.
- Preparing for changes in routine helps reduce stress.
- A visual schedule helps students better understand and take control of their day.
- Talk less.
- Use visuals more.
- Have clear, consistent expectations.
- Respond to the students. Some days are harder than others. Accept this. Make changes to still make these hard days, successful ones.
- We all need independent work areas.
- Take a deep breath. Use a quiet voice. It’s amazing how our volume influences the volume of others.
- Have high, but realistic, expectations for all students. All students need us to believe in them, and they need to know that we do.
- Work as a team. We can learn a lot from each other.
- Differentiate. It’s hard, but it’s possible. All students deserve the right to experience success.
- Teach compassion.
- Demonstrate the importance of acceptance. Help students see that every child matters.
- Reflect a lot. Try something, make changes, reflect on it, and try again.
- Work with parents. They know their children best. The insights that they can share will definitely help.
- Persevere. Embrace the saying, “Let’s start fresh.”
- Avoid labels. Gifted. Learning disabled. Autistic. The list goes on. Regardless of the label, children are children first.
Everything you need to know about teaching and learning is in here: classroom management, differentiated instruction, self-regulation, and most of all, putting students first. I’m a better teacher because of what I’ve learned from teaching students with autism. On World Autism Awareness Day, let’s remember what makes all of our students unique and wonderful, and how sometimes, looking closely at the needs of one student may really benefit all of them.
How has working with children with autism influenced how and what you do? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Hi Aviva, the strategies you have listed are so true. I strongly believe in the ‘TEAM’ approach to teaching and we have to be thankful for all the extra supports and expertise we have e.g. E.A’s, LRT’s, admin etc. to help us with our special, unique, and wonderful students.
Thanks for the comment, David! You’re right: the team is so important, and each person brings different expertise to the team. Working together ultimately benefits kids. Maybe this is a good thing to remember when team work is challenging: it puts things in perspective.
Your list is so true! At times, I wish I could be inside the thoughts of the student with autism just to help ME better understand how he/she is viewing the word around them. I also believe in teaching the student about what autism is, and how it is a part of them. Learning to deal with their individuality is no different than teaching all other students the same concept.
Thanks for the comment, Sandra! Great point! We differentiate in the classroom all of the time. Meeting different academic needs is no different than meeting different social/emotional ones. Writing this reply though, I wonder how often this is considered. I know that I don’t think about this as much as I could. Thanks for giving me more to consider.
I have two favourite things about this post, Aviva. First, it is very possible to believe that you really did learn all of these enduring understandings because of your hard work with students who do have autism…both the the benefit of those students and to the rest of us who get to learn vicariously through you. Second, pretty much every item in that list could (and should) be applied to virtually every student with the result being a better school experience. That old principle that what is necessary for some is good for many applies here, I think. It’s always great when we can apply our learning across more than one student. And now we can all apply your learning to even more. thanks!
Thanks for the comment and the kind words, Kristi! I really do think that I learned all of these things by working with students with autism. Maybe I did because the challenge of doing so and meeting with success (something that I so desperately want for all of my students) forced me to be more metacognitive and think about what I did and why that worked. And this year, even though I have no students with autism, I can’t help but think back to the benefits for my students last year and use many of these same approaches. As you said, it’s surprising how often what’s good for some is good for many (as is the case here). I feel very fortunate to have worked with so many students with autism, and I can’t thank them enough for how much they taught me. I learned a lot from all of these students, and all of the people that supported both me and them. Thanks for being one of these people!
Sometimes I do not have an IEP for a student at secondary level, but after a class or two, I can notice his/her special needs. This means differentiation in assessment as I know what to expect from the student. I also allow frequent breaks as these students work better when they get their personal time. During tests and exams they need to be walked through or rather talked through questions so that they can make sense of what is asked. I repeat or reteach concepts without batting an eyelid as that is the need of the moment.
Thanks for the comment, Sandhya! These are all wonderful examples of how we look closely at student needs and put students first. It’s great to hear the many different ways that teachers do this.