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.