You have an autistic child in your classroom, and are looking intently at them, wondering what abilities are hidden inside that hard to read mind. The trick to getting into the autistic child’s mind is the one thing that scientist’s, teachers, and others in related career fields have been trying to figure out for decades. But, you, the special education teacher can get in there at times, and when those moments appear, be ready to grab onto them and learn all that you can.
You know the moments but I’m talking about, when the child seems to “turn on”and opens the hidden door that is the key to both their personality and their mind. If you are a keen observer and catch these moments when they occur, you will be surprised at what you can learn about the child. The first place to start is to watch what fascinates them the most. For instance, let’s say that a child has a fascination with maps, or numbers that leads to an intense focus or certain repetitive behaviors. Now, instead of seeing these fascinations as obstacles, look at them in a new light. A fascination with numbers can hide potential math talent they can be capitalized on and hopefully help the child to be employable later on. Another example would be a student that focuses in on comic books. He or she may like to draw and copy the pictures in the book, or other related habits. In this case, we have potential art ability and also other possible visually-based talents.
By looking where the child looks, and opening your mind to the many possibilities that are there, you will be amazed at how many potential abilities that child can have. You may ask, though, how to generalize those abilities to other parts of the curriculum. This is actually not as hard as it may seem, for instance, if you take a focus on baseball cards that a student has and try to use it in math, spelling, reading, and the other subject areas and creative ways. An example would be having that week’s spelling words having to do with baseball, which would improve the child’s abilities in spelling and reading. The child may be able to tell you the entire list of statistics for any player on a certain team, and you can capitalize on that phenomenal memory ability by relating anything about baseball particular team to the other subject you’re trying to teach. If they can hold all that information, then they can possibly hold other things and learn how to use the new knowledge in other environments.
The statistic child has an enormous capacity to study a certain section of history and loves to talk about it, you have speaking ability even if it is only in relation to that subject for now. Have a student teach a lesson to the class about that part of history that he finds most fascinating. Go through the steps with him of preparation, research, and related procedures at the practicing and getting the final presentation. In this respect you are playing on the students memory ability, ability to speak at length on a certain topic, and at the same time are improving other skills that he needs to grow in.
The child with autism who is non-verbal or has very few communication skills can be a particular challenge. They do have many abilities and can be quite intelligent in certain areas if given the chance. It takes dedicated teacher with an observant eye in order to capture the essence of these potential abilities, but it can be done. One way to do this is to plan, introduce to the student and then do a variety of activities over time. Try anything from drawing, sorting things, doing different chores and tasks or whatever you feel may draw this aspect of them out and into the open. This way, a potential ability may pop up.
The trick to finding an autistic student’s capabilities is to have an open mind, see things in a different perspective, be observant, and interact with the student. If you can do these things, you will be on the road to discovering more about them.