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Guidelines for Teaching Individuals with ASD in School Settings


I am a young man with autism, aged 23, who presents around the United States on autism. I also have written two novels where the protagonists are children with autism.

During my travels around the United States, I visit many types of schools. I have visited public schools of all grades, special schools for individuals with autism, along with private schools of all grades. I visit schools for usually three reasons:

First, to present and give inservices to the staff at those schools.

Second, to consult and give advice to the staff at those schools.

Third, to give autism awareness presentations to the students at those schools, sometimes in classrooms or in the form of an assembly.

When I visit these schools, I often hear stories about the concerns and issues that teachers and parents have about how to properly educate children with autism. 

Growing up with autism myself, my education was split between homeschooling and public school education. In a school district that, at times, did not always understand autism, my parents would often homeschool me when they felt that the school did not understand my needs, and then I would sometimes attend school when they felt that they did. This experience enabled me to see the benefits and advantages of both worlds.

Based on these experiences in the educational system, and the visits I give to schools, I have created a checklist of guidelines that I believe should be implemented in schools that are educating children with autism. I share these whenever I visit schools, varying them based on the context of the school I am visiting.

Guideline #1: Academic instruction should be taught separately from social instruction in order to accomodate that a child with autism may be academically at one level, but socially at another.

Guideline #2: Schools that educate children with autism should have an “escape room,” or place where children can go when they need to have sensory breaks.

Guideline #3: Children with autism should be allowed to use assistive technology, such as computers, iPads, etc., if it helps them perform better academically in a classroom.

Guideline #4: Children with autism should be notified prior to all emergency drills, such as tornado drills, earthquake drills, lockdown drills, and especially fire drills.

Guideline #5: Teachers should acknowledge and understand the differences between “intelligence” and “school intelligence,” that is, a student’s intelligence vs. a student’s ability to function in a school setting, and be aware that students with autism may be highly intelligent yet may still struggle within the context of a classroom setting.

Guideline #6: Children with autism should be educated, in high school, about the multiple options they have when transitioning out of education, rather than focus on a single option (such as going to college), unless the family (and if possible, the individual with autism) has decided that is the transition they desire for their child.

Guideline #7: Children with autism should be notified that they do not magically become independent at the age of 18 and that they may still have to live with their parents into adulthood, and that it is not shameful to do so.

Guideline #8: The social preferences of children with autism often differ than non-autistic children–therefore, teachers should be respectful of friendships that children with autism make independently provided the friendships are mutual and that the child with autism is not being hurt as a result of the friendship.

Guideline #9: Children with autism should not have friendships forced on them, if they desire to be alone, teachers should respect their desires, focus on helping them academically, and possibly help them communicate to other children their desire for space and to be alone.

Guideline #10: Every child with autism is different, and their accommodations should reflect their unique differences, strengths, and needs, even if they do not always match up with general guidelines about helping individuals with autism.

It should be noted that these are a list of guidelines, and therefore, no one has to agree with all of them. At the same time, since every autistic child is different, what works for some children with autism may not work with other children.

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2 thoughts on “Guidelines for Teaching Individuals with ASD in School Settings

  • Thank you for your comment! Although I know it has been five months since it was posted, I have tried to respond but was unable to due to computer limitations, via this website and e-mail.

    Personally, I do agree with much of what you say, especially the fact that teachers do not always properly give accomodations to students with autism, even if they are told to. And obviously, this is a simple list with suggestions that are indeed open for debate. And I agree with you that the reward and punishment system is truly not a good system since it does not really teach a child to understand the reasons why they need their accomodations, neither does the teacher get to truly understand the student.

    Your point about making a difference between an isolation room and a break room is important, and when I talk about the need for sensory breaks, I am referring to sensory rooms with swings, bouncy balls, and other equipment that kids can use to calm themselves down, often not alone but with the help of a teacher.

    Here’s another example of how people can misuse theories on autism. Some people like to argue that every person is different or “special” to try to legitimize autism. I, however, do not like to say this to teachers–since many teachers used that argument to deny many accomodations and services at my school to students with ASD!

    (Although my user name for this blog is “magnavox,” this post was written by the article’s author, James Williams, as a reply to the blog post.)

  • The escape room idea sounds good in principle, but let me offer two things:

    1. There should be an escape from indoors (that is, the fluorescent lights, the enclosure, the ugly institutional paint job)

    2. It can’t be turned into an isolation room.  

    Number one may not always be feasible in full, but fluorescents are known triggers for seizures and headaches and autistis as a whole tend to be more sensitive to the flicker.  I personally can live with it, but I’ve met people who can’t.  At minimum there should be a place with exclusively incandescent and natural lighting.  

    Number two is a big one.  The isolation room is used as punishment and the person is not permitted out, even for the bathroom.  This is something that has come up before state legislatures, usually in the context of regulating the use of restraint.  Being locked in isolation is not the same as taking a break from offensive stimuli and the confinement is a negative stimulus in its own right and will only lead to more trauma.  

    I had breaks written into my IEP.  On a very very good day, I might go to the library, otherwise I would go to the administrative offices.  On a bad day, I’d get sent to ISS.  And it depended on which TA was in charge, and it was rare that they’d be familiar with the IEP.  More a matter of personality.  But the general theme was one of rewards and punishments, not of education and maintence of equilibrium.  If I got sent to the library, even if I studied it would be a “reward for bad behavior” (that is, not being in class) and it was generally forbidden at the expense of my education.  Edit: OH yes, and the IEP specifically mentioned the library.  /edit

    Yes, there needs to be more flexibility on the part of the school towards autistics, but there also needs to be more regulation on the part of the school with respect to its own staff.  If staff can’t be trusted to follow these guidelines constructively, then there is no point in suggesting them.  The school must obey IEP’s, which means TA’s must also obey IEP’s.  So much of this could be implemented simply by changing the attitudes in the school–it would flow like water–but with most of the people I met, it would only be put into practice to the extent that it could be transformed into an immovable grey block.


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