Children who suffer from autism require more attention and more supervision in the classroom than other students, and so it is crucial that the support workers have a good understanding of how to work with these children.
Firstly, they need to understand that children who suffer with this disease have all the emotions and personality traits as the other children; they just aren’t able to control their responses or express themselves properly. The workers have to be trained to work with these children on a one-to-one basis and teach them how to react.
Children with autism can follow directions and can respond but the worker needs to understand that their heads are bombarded with every noise and voice around them so they aren’t always able to pick out the voice of the one speaking to them. Workers need to move in close to the face of the child and have the child focus on them alone so that the surrounding noises are out of the way. They need to speak clearly and directly so that the child can hear them, which gives them the opportunity to understand and respond.
Workers need to learn how to calm the child when he or she panics and begins to scream or cry, and they need to understand why the child reacts this way in the first place. Many people think that these children are just brats that scream because they can’t get their own way, and perhaps at times that is true, but mostly they scream because they are trying to say something and the words aren’t there. They can’t tell you what is hurting them or what’s bothering them, or they aren’t able to respond to something that was said or done because their thoughts are jumbled. They become so frustrated that all they can do is cry or scream, so the worker needs to know how to calm them so they can regain their peace and their ability to be coherent. And this might include soft music or rubbing their back gently but the children do respond to things that give them peace.
Depending on the severity of the autism, some children are labelled a “flight risk” and this means that they’ll run out the door and be gone before anyone notices. So, workers need to understand that they have to watch these children constantly. They don’t run because they are rebellious but because the confusion inside their head becomes so overwhelming that they are trying to escape from it. So it won’t matter what the weather is outside or what the conditions are, a child with autism will disappear though an open door or window and will keep running without ever looking back. The further they go, the more terrified and lost they become, and so to protect them from physical and mental danger the worker needs to be trained to never leave the child’s side.
The reactions of children with autism can often be opposite to natural reactions and this can cause other children to be angry at them and bully or mock them. Workers need to protect the child by teaching the other children that this child doesn’t know how to react but inside they are laughing or crying as they should be. Then they need to train the child with autism how to react in certain situations – and this can take a long time. For example, when another child falls and cries, the child with autism will feel the hurt and will want to cry with that child, but he or she can’t get the proper response out and so they will laugh. The worker, through pictures and face expressions, can show the child how to cry at sad things and how to laugh at happy things. It may be an ongoing correction but at least the child will be able to eventually express the right emotion.
Workers need to know that they have to speak simple and direct words because anything long or complicated will be lost. Instructions should be simple and direct because the children will only hear the first few words.
Support workers have to know that children with autism need to be loved as much, if not more, than other children. They love to be hugged even if they can’t hug back, and they need to be smiled at even if they don’t respond. It helps to build their self-esteem and it gives them the satisfaction of knowing that they are loved, that they are part of the classroom of students.
And lastly, even though these children might not complete tasks or do things as perfectly as the other children, they need to be given verbal acknowledgement that they have done well. They know that they aren’t doing things as good as they should be done – and that’s another reason they are so frustrated at times. But when the workers tell them that they’ve done good, the child begins to realize that he or she is doing the task and it is very rewarding for them even if they don’t do it that well, and because they feel as if they are accomplishing this task, they will keep trying if only to please the worker. And over time they will do the task perfectly, but the support worker’s encouragement along the way will build their self-esteem and will reward them with the appreciation that they crave for – and that they deserve.