STRATEGIES FOR TEACHING
AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS
The following information has been gleaned from
a variety of sources. It consists of information and ideas which
have been used in my classroom. All suggestions do not work with
all students. What works for me may not necessarily work in your
classroom. If you have problem areas, maybe I can help. If you have
suggestions, send me a note and I will give them a try and/or post
them on the Room5 page. Be sure to check back often for updates.
Chris - Web site: aol.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Students with autism often need highly structured visual teaching
The main elements of structured teaching include
individual work systems, and classroom arrangement. These elements
help in many ways:
• this makes the environment predictable
• reduces student stress, confusion, anxiety, and behavior problems
• builds on the student’s strengths
• aligns with the desire for routine, predictability, and organization
• provides comfort with repetitive tasks
• uses visual learning styles
• leads toward independence.
Teach the meaning and value of a schedule
Focus on what you want the child to do.
Use daily schedules, calendars, and lists to assist in sequencing
activities and aid in transitions
2. use a variety of visual cues (objects, photos, icons, words,
sentences, check lists)
3. individualize to the student’s developmental level and skills
4. determine the length of the schedule based on student skill level
5. independence is the goal (not sophistication)
The schedule helps the student know where to go,
when to go, and what is going to happen next. This is one of the
most important methods of reducing anxiety for people with autism.
The following schedules are what is used in my classroom of students
with autism who are three to eight years old.
On the right is a picture collection created by a parent of a child
with autism. It contains a variety of icons to use with the PECS
system and/or picture/icon schedules. She has more information at:
Joe uses a combination picture, icon, and word schedule. He goes
to his schedule board, removes the icon that tells him what to do,
and carries it to the next activity. At that activity, there is
a place (velcro strip or container) for him to deposit his icon.
When he is finished, he returns to his schedule and takes the next
If Joe's next icon is something he has already done (like go to
the bathroom) he simply removes it and places it into the finished
pocket at the bottom.
Jon can read, so his schedule is comprised of
words only. He is beginning to transition to a sentence schedule.
That is now a list of "what to do" placed at his work
Jon has an arrow at the end of his schedule. He had difficulty remembering
which icon to remove once he arrived at this schedule. Now he takes
the arrow with his left hand, removes the icon with his right hand,
then moves the arrow to where the icon was. Each time he returns
to his schedule, the arrow is pointing to the next icon.
Mike is just beginning this system. He needs to
be directed to go to his schedule using a transition strip. He then
takes the next item (left to right) from his schedule, and goes
to where he is directed. The round block has a spindle at the work
area as a receiver spot. The cup tells him to go to the snack area,
and the diaper means that it is bathroom time.
Beside each student schedule is a pocket which
holds a "transition" strip. This is a colored strip used
to tell the student to check his or her schedule. I keep the strips
in a variety of locations throughout my classroom. When it is time
for the student to check his or her schedule, I hand the student
the strip while saying "check your schedule."
The student is taught to take the strip to his or her schedule,
put it into the pocket and take the next item from the schedule.
I teach this "hand over hand." 1)Put the strip into the
child's left hand saying "check your schedule.", 2)walk
him or her to the schedule, 3) help the student put the strip into
the pocket with the left hand, while at the same time reaching for
the next icon with the right hand. Then, direct the student to the
After the student learns to follow the "check
your schedule" direction, I do not necessarily remove the strips
and pocket. Quite often on difficult days, this cue is still needed
to help the student follow through and stay on task.
Develop independent work systems geared to student skill level
Work systems need clear visual cues that the student
1. what work?
2. how much work?
3. how does the student know when the work is finished?
4. what comes next?
Work systems can be incorporated into the regular
Once the student understands the basic framework
of a work system, the individual tasks within the system can be
varied. Gear activities so they end before the student becomes frustrated.
I use a variety of tasks at the work stations.
Important things to remember about tasks are:
1) the activities reinforce IEP goals.
2) the student must be taught how to do the activity (get it, do
it, & put it back.)
3) the objective of the activity must be clear.
4) the activities need to be stabilized so they do not spill or
5) the concept of "finished" needs to be taught.
Here you will find samples of activities at different levels. The
fine-motor/hand-eye coordination activities always begin with one
object and one place to put it. Multiple objects with multiple places
for things to go is a more advanced step. The activities here should
give you ideas to use and expand on for your students. Remember,
these are samples of activities I use in my own classroom. They
are for younger students.
Rings or disks to put into a slot in a container
are an excellent beginning hand-eye coordination activity. The horizontal
slot is easier to use, a vertical slot will be more difficult.
Putting a shape into the correct hole can be a
bit difficult at first for some children. This has been color coded
for easier use. The wooden box is taped into a shoe box for stability.
Because some of the children were quite short, I cut down the side
of the box so they could see inside.
Tasks can be made from simple materials. The object
of this task is for the student to remove the lid from the film
container, then put each piece into the correct slot. The lids may
be difficult to remove, so they are already partially opened.
Note: The above activities are placed in front
of the student so he or she can work from left-to-right.
This is a combination color sort and fine motor
task. A beginning step would be to have the child put rings on a
Here is a beginning bead-stringing activity. The
square beads are attached to the tray with Velcro. When teaching
this activity, remember to reinforce concepts: first, next, in,
out, through, last, etc.
Lotto games can teach a variety of skills which
include: picture matching, icon to picture, word to picture, beginning
sounds, & things that go-together.
I made this lotto game from two poster catalogs.
Pictures are laminated or covered with clear contact paper. Velcro
keeps the picture from moving once the student places it in the
This lotto game was purchased at a school supply
store. Once again, Velcro is placed on the pieces for stability.
Note: I always place the scratchy side of the
Velcro on the object that moves, such as the game piece, bead, or
picture. The soft side is the "receiver" end. I use this
system throughout the classroom for both tasks and schedules.
Tasks for older students may include more academics.
Directions should be clear and items should be stabilized in a folder
File folder games make excellent work tasks. Some
are attached with Velcro, others use library pockets. I also use
little plastic bags for holding the small items.
Consider location, distractions, & boundaries
Buzzing lights, motors, hallway sounds, visual
distractions, and smells
can interfere with concentration.
1. it should be visually clear what activities
happen in which areas
2. furniture and materials should be clearly organized
3. locate the student near or facing the teacher or at the end of
4. in large groups, place between two model students
5. use visual barriers or study carrels
Classroom arrangement should be a priority when
organizing for students with autism spectrum disorders. Different
areas have different purposes. We work in the work area, and we
play in the play area. One corner of my classroom is sectioned off
and is used for work supplies and work stations only. The cardboard
box in the foreground is part of our play area.
This work area has four separate stations for students. Some students
have their own stations, some need to share with others. For the
most part, the more independent students need their own section
and materials, but the younger, less independent students share.
Although I can have several students in the area at once, only one
student works at a station at a time.
Notice the room dividers are made of a variety
of materials. The white wooden ones are 40-inches tall. I purchased
the wood at a lumber yard, then cut them and painted them. I put
two together with hinges so they make a corner divider. I found
that 40-inches is the perfect height for my classroom of three to
eight year-olds. If I am not close by, I can still see them when
they are seated, yet they cannot see over the top unless they are
taller and standing.
Note: Believe it or not, the main wall in my classroom
is covered with an orange rubberized material. I have chosen to
cover this with white butcher paper.
Stations and Activities
• Work systems area (shown above): activities
are structured to reinforce specific IEP goals such as fine motor,
reading readiness, math readiness, vocational skills, and leisure
skills, Independent work skills are stressed.
• One-to one teaching area: activities are structured for direct
teaching of IEP goals.
• Office area: set up for independent work
• Play area: activities include free play, structured play, and
leisure skills and is located near the back door and small play
• Lotto time: after lunch recess all students participate in group
lotto. This consists of a variety of matching activities for skill
reinforcement, including picture, icon, and word identification.
Teacher and assistants rotate through all areas
on a weekly basis.
Behavior is communication
Work at reading the behavior and not taking it
1. Write behavior rules for the child to read
when necessary (list what to do, and not what not to do, if possible.)
2. Use story webs and role playing to model appropriate behavior
in social situations
3. Positive rewards work better than punishment
4. Use if/then patterns to aid in understanding
5. Teach the child ways to be flexible
6. Set your priorities (safety first -- you may need to let some
of the “little things” go).
The student will need a method of communication to let you know
when there is something “not right” within the system.
(i.e., How does he let you know he is missing something needed to
complete the task?)
You need a method to let the student know there
will be a change in the daily schedule or routine, or if something
needs to be interrupted before it is finished.
Let the child know ahead of time when an activity
is about to begin or end, or if you are going to touch or move the
child. Watch for likes, dislikes, and interests. Use their strengths.
Communication (both expressive and receptive)
is usually a major concern. Do not assume the student automatically
understands you. Enjoy the special gifts and talents these children
bring to your classroom. They will teach you.
Copyright - used with permission from aol.com
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