Understanding Autism and Ten Teaching Tips

Understanding Autism and Ten Teaching Tips

In a few weeks I will be the proud owner of a diploma in Special Education.  I am so excited to support children with exceptionalities and have been sharing strategies and teaching tips all season.  Today we are talking about children with autism…

Children who fall under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder have a life long pervasive developmental disorder.  This developmental disability is one that affects a child’s social relationships, communication and behaviour.  ASD encompasses a wide variety of conditions from Aspersers to PDD-NOS.  A child with ASD may have challenges that range from mild (high functioning and academically bright) to severe (low functioning and non-verbal).  Autism diagnosis has steadily been on the rise and estimated to affect 1 in 68 children.  There is no known reason for the increase in children with ASD however diagnostic testing has become more common and the category of autism has expanded to include a number of related disorders.  In our school district the number of children with autism has doubled in the last five years.


There are a wide variety of characteristics associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Characteristics may be present at birth or show up later in life.  A child may have a few or many of the signs and symptoms of ASD.  Some of the key characteristics include:



  • Intense interest
  • Repetitive body movements (stims)
  • Insistence on sticking to routine
  • Unusual sensory interests
  • Sensory sensitive
  • Learning difficulties


  • Limited understanding of non-verbal cues and communication
  • Difficulty forming friendships
  • Difficulty sharing interests in a reciprocal way


  • Delayed language development
  • Difficulty initiating and maintaining conversation
  • Lack of eye contact



There is no known cause of Autism.  Links have been made to genetics and differences in the brain.



The characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder affect almost every domain of a child’s functioning and therefor the child’s ability to function well in school and in social situations.  Individuals may function highly and need very little support while others may be non-verbal and require one on one support.  It is important to note that children with ASD are all unique individuals who have a large capacity to learn.



  1. Visual schedule, visual schedule, visual schedule.  Create and use visual schedules whenever possible
  2. Provide an environment that reduces over stimulation, dim lights, quiet noise
  3. Have a routine that provides structure to the day
  4. Teach and model how to understand non-verbal communication (apps like Proloquo2Go may help)
  5. Use the fabulous five point scale whenever possible to identify teachable moments and help the child self regulate
  6. Teach the child about emotions and how others may look when experiencing certain moods (apps like The Zones of Regulation)
  7. Provide specific tasks or activities in a sequential order – task analysis (apps like Choiceworks are excellent)
  8. Use the child’s intense interest as a teaching tool, for example if the child loves Lego try to incorporate it into class curriculum
  9. Provide opportunities for non-verbal children to communicate with PEC Books or other apps
  10. Keep language simple and concrete, children with ASD may not understand nuances like sarcasm and idioms
  11. Offer sensory opportunities throughout the day
  12. Relate activities to real life examples for these concrete learners
  13. Provide opportunities to use technology aids like an iPad (apps like Time Timer may be useful)
  14. Give the child more choices and try to include their interests in the activity whenever possible.
  15. Use social stories to teach social skills whenever possible (an app like Social Skill Builder may help)


Websites and resources:

Okanagan Family Autism Connection

Autism BC

Canucks Autism Network


Autism Speaks

Provincial Outreach Program for Autism Related Disorders

Autism Teaching Strategies

Autism Canada Handbook

Carly’s Café (video)

Temple Grandin Ted Talk (video)

Teaching Kids with Autism

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