TEACHING TIPS FOR CHILDREN
Temple Grandin, Ph.D.
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA
(Revised: December 2002)
Good teachers helped me to achieve success. I
was able to overcome autism because I had good teachers. At two
and half years of age, I was placed in a structured nursery school
with experienced teachers. From an early age I was taught to have
good manners and to behave at the dinner table. Children with autism
need to have a structured day, and teachers who know how to be firm
Between the ages of 2 1/4 and 5 my day was structured,
and I was not allowed to tune out. I had 45 minutes of one-to-one
speech therapy five days a week, and my mother hired a nanny who
spent three to four hours a day playing games with me and my sister.
She taught 'turn taking' during play activities. When we made a
snowman, she had me roll the bottom ball; and then my sister had
to make the next part. At mealtimes, every-body ate together; and
I was not allowed to do any "stims." The only time I was
allowed to revert back to autistic behavior was during a one-hour
rest period after lunch. The combination of the nursery school,
speech therapy, play activities, and "miss manners" meals
added up to 40 hours a week, where my brain was kept connected to
Many people with autism are visual thinkers
I think in pictures. I do not think in language.
All my thoughts are like videotapes running in my imagination. Pictures
are my first language, and words are my second language. Nouns were
the easiest words to learn because I could make a picture in my
mind of the word. To learn words like "up" or "down,"
the teacher should demonstrate them to the child. For example, take
a toy airplane and say "up" as you make the airplane takeoff
from a desk. Some children will learn better if cards with the words
"up" and "down" are attached to the toy airplane.
The "up" card is attached when the plane takes off. The
"down" card is attached when it lands.
Avoid long strings of verbal instructions
People with autism have problems with remembering
the sequence. If the child can read, write the instructions down
on a piece of paper. I am unable to remember sequences. If I ask
for directions at a gas station, I can only remember three steps.
Directions with more than three steps have to be written down. I
also have difficulty remembering phone numbers because I cannot
make a picture in my mind.
Drawing, art and computer programming
Many children with autism are good at drawing,
art and computer programming. These talent areas should be encouraged.
I think there needs to be much more emphasis on developing the child's
talents. Talents can be turned into skills that can be used for
Dealing with fixations
Many autistic children get fixated on one subject
such as trains or maps. The best way to deal with fixations is to
use them to motivate school work. If the child likes trains, then
use trains to teach reading and math. Read a book about a train
and do math problems with trains. For example, calculate how long
it takes for a train to go between New York and Washington.
Use concrete visual methods to teach number concepts
My parents gave me a math toy which helped me
to learn numbers. It consisted of a set of blocks which had a different
length and a different color for the numbers one through ten. With
this I learned how to add and subtract. To learn fractions my teacher
had a wooden apple that was cut up into four pieces and a wooden
pear that was cut in half. From this I learned the concept of quarters
Typing instead of handwriting
I had the worst handwriting in my class. Many
autistic children have problems with motor control in their hands.
Neat handwriting is sometimes very hard. This can totally frustrate
the child. To reduce frustration and help the child to enjoy writing,
let him type on the computer. Typing is often much easier.
Phonics and flash cards
Some autistic children will learn reading more
easily with phonics, and others will learn best by memorizing whole
words. I learned with phonics. My mother taught me the phonics rules
and then had me sound out my words. Children with lots of echolalia
will often learn best if flash cards and picture books are used
so that the whole words are associated with pictures. It is important
to have the picture and the printed word on the same side of the
card. When teaching nouns the child must hear you speak the word
and view the picture and printed word simultaneously. An example
of teaching a verb would be to hold a card that says "jump,"
and you would jump up and down while saying "jump."
When I was a child, loud sounds like the school
bell hurt my ears like a dentist drill hitting a nerve. Children
with autism need to be protected from sounds that hurt their ears.
The sounds that will cause the most problems are school bells, PA
systems, buzzers on the score board in the gym, and the sound of
chairs scraping on the floor. In many cases the child will be able
to tolerate the bell or buzzer if it is muffled slightly by stuffing
it with tissues or duct tape. Scraping chairs can be silenced by
placing slit tennis balls on the ends of the legs or installing
carpet. A child may fear a certain room because he is afraid he
may be suddenly subjected to squealing microphone feedback from
the PA system. The fear of a dreaded sound can cause bad behavior.
If a child covers his ears, it is an indicator that a certain sound
hurts his ears. Sometimes sound sensitivity to a particular sound,
such as the fire alarm, can be desensitized by recording the sound
on a tape recorder. This will allow the child to initiate the sound
and gradually increase its volume. The child must have control of
playback of the sound.
Some autistic people are bothered by visual distractions
and fluorescent lights. They can see the flicker of the 60-cycle
electricity. To avoid this problem, place the child's desk near
the window or try to avoid using fluorescent lights. If the lights
cannot be avoided, use the newest bulbs you can get. New bulbs flicker
less. The flickering of fluorescent lights can also be reduced by
putting a lamp with an old-fashioned incandescent light bulb next
to the child's desk.
Some hyperactive autistic children who fidget
all the time will often be calmer if they are given a padded weighted
vest to wear. Pressure from the garment helps to calm the nervous
system. I was greatly calmed by pressure. For best results, the
vest should be worn for twenty minutes and then taken off for a
few minutes. This prevents the nervous system from adapting to it.
Some individuals with autism will respond better
and have improved eye contact and speech if the teacher interacts
with them while they are swinging on a swing or rolled up in a mat.
Sensory input from swinging or pressure from the mat sometimes helps
to improve speech. Swinging should always be done as a fun game.
It must NEVER be forced.
more possible strategies
Some children and adults can sing better than
they can speak. They may respond better if words and sentences are
sung to them. Some children with extreme sound sensitivity will
respond better if the teacher talks to them in a low whisper.
Some nonverbal children and adults cannot process
visual and auditory input at the same time. They are mono-channel.
They cannot see and hear at the same time. They should not be asked
to look and listen at the same time. They should be given either
a visual task or an auditory task. Their immature nervous system
is not able to process simultaneous visual and auditory input.
In older nonverbal children and adults touch is
often their most reliable sense. It is often easier for them to
feel. Letters can be taught by letting them feel plastic letters.
They can learn their daily schedule by feeling objects a few minutes
before a scheduled activity. For example, fifteen minutes before
lunch give the person a spoon to hold. Let them hold a toy car a
few minutes before going in the car.
Some children and adults with autism will learn
more easily if the computer key-board is placed close to the screen.
This enables the individual to simultaneously see the keyboard and
screen. Some individuals have difficulty remembering if they have
to look up after they have hit a key on the keyboard.
Nonverbal children and adults will find it easier
to associate words with pictures if they see the printed word and
a picture on a flashcard. Some individuals do not under-stand line
drawings, so it is recommended to work with real objects and photos
first. The picture and the word must be on the same side of the
Some autistic individuals do not know that speech
is used for communication. Language learning can be facilitated
if language exercises promote communication. If the child asks for
a cup, then give him a cup. If the child asks for a plate, when
he wants a cup, give him a plate. The individual needs to learn
that when he says words, concrete things happen. It is easier for
an individual with autism to learn that their words are wrong if
the incorrect word resulted in the incorrect object.
Many individuals with autism have difficulty using
a computer mouse. Try a roller ball (or tracking ball) pointing
device that has a separate button for clicking. Autistics with motor
control problems in their hands find it very difficult to hold the
mouse still during clicking.
Children who have difficulty understanding speech
have a hard time differentiating between hard consonant sounds such
as 'D' in dog and 'L' in log. My speech teacher helped me to learn
to hear these sounds by stretching out and enunciating hard consonant
sounds. Even though the child may have passed a pure tone hearing
test he may still have difficulty hearing hard consonants. Children
who talk in vowel sounds are not hearing consonants.
Several parents have informed me that using the
closed captions on the television helped their child to learn to
read. The child was able to read the captions and match the printed
works with spoken speech. Recording a favorite program with captions
on a tape would be helpful because the tape can be played over and
over again and stopped.
Some autistic individuals do not understand that
a computer mouse moves the arrow on the screen. They may learn more
easily if a paper arrow that looks EXACTLY like the arrow on the
screen is taped to the mouse.
Children and adults with visual processing problems
can see flicker on TV type computer monitors. They can sometimes
see better on laptops and flat panel displays which have less flicker.
Children and adults who fear escalators often
have visual processing problems. They fear the escalator because
they cannot determine when to get on or off. These individuals may
also not be able to tolerate fluorescent lights. The Irlen colored
glasses may be helpful for them.
Individuals with visual processing problems often
find it easier to read if black print is printed on colored paper
to reduce contrast. Try light tan, light blue, gray, or light green
paper. Experiment with different colors. Avoid bright yellow--it
may hurt the individual's eyes. Irlen colored glasses may also make
Teaching generalization is often a problem for
children with autism. To teach a child to generalize the principle
of not running across the street, it must be taught in many different
locations. If he is taught in only one location, the child will
think that the rule only applies to one specific place.
A common problem is that a child may be able to
use the toilet correctly at home but refuses to use it at school.
This may be due to a failure to recognize the toilet. Hilde de Clereq
from Belgium discovered that an autistic child may use a small non-relevant
detail to recognize an object such as a toilet. It takes detective
work to find that detail. In one case a boy would only use the toilet
at home that had a black seat. His parents and teacher were able
to get him to use the toilet at school by covering its white seat
with black tape. The tape was then gradually removed and toilets
with white seats were now recognized as toilets.
Sequencing is very difficult for individuals with
severe autism. Sometimes they do not understand when a task is presented
as a series of steps. An occupational therapist successfully taught
a nonverbal autistic child to use a playground slide by walking
his body through climbing the ladder and going down the slide. It
must be taught by touch and motor rather than showing him visually.
Putting on shoes can be taught in a similar manner. The teacher
should put her hands on top of the child’s hands and move the child’s
hands over his foot so he feels and understands the shape of his
foot. The next step is feeling the inside and the outside of a slip-on
shoe. To put the shoe on, the teacher guides the child’s hands to
the shoe and, using the hand-over-hand method, slides the shoe onto
the child’s foot. This enables the child to feel the entire task
of putting on his shoe.
Fussy eating is a common problem. In some cases
the child may be fixated on a detail that identifies a certain food.
Hilde de Clerq found that one child only ate Chiquita bananas because
he fixated on the labels. Other fruit such as apples and oranges
were readily accepted when Chiquita labels were put on them. Try
putting different but similar foods in the cereal box or another
package of a favorite food. Another mother had success by putting
a homemade hamburger with a wheat free bun in a McDonald’s package.
Copyright The purpose of this copyright is to
protect your right to make free copies of this paper for your friends
and colleagues, to prevent publishers from using it for commercial
advantage, and to prevent ill-meaning people from altering the meaning
of the document by changing or removing a few paragraphs.
Reproduction kindly allowed by www.autism.org
Visit their site for more useful resources.
Click here for the Asperger's
and autism fact sheets and personal stories at www.autism-help.org
Click here to
see more fact sheets on behavioral issues at www.autism-help.org