Individuals on the spectrum often need special accommodations at school. There are many lists of possible accommodations for students on the autism spectrum. So much depends on how challenged the individual is, and in what areas the challenges present themselves. Ask, what are the barriers to your child’s fulfilling his or her potential? Then work with the school to provide the modification or accommodation that addresses that barrier.
There are lists of accommodations online and many books are available. Both Pam Tanguay’s Nonverbal Learning Disabilities at School: Educating Students with NLD, Asperger Syndrome and Related Conditions and Kathryn Stewart’s Helping a Child with Nonverbal Learning Disorder or Asperger’s Syndrome: A Parent’s Guide have lists of helpful accommodations.
No single child will need all of the accommodations, but as you read through them, you will probably find some that fit your son or daughter. Bring lists of possible accommodations to your child’s IEP Team meeting to discuss with the teachers and professionals who are working with your child at school. Most teachers will appreciate suggestions for what you think might work well for your child.
For all children on the spectrum, one key to success is an accepting, non-competitive, supportive environment.
All teachers should have a written document explaining a little about how the child works best, and outlining agreed upon accommodations.
Parents should obtain a copy of all the school’s policies – usually there is some kind of handbook. Many schools have strict policies on certain things – like making up exams – on which they won’t bend, even for a child receiving accommodations. If you are familiar with the policies you can be proactive.
Preferential Seating – This means sitting in a spot that will reduce distractions. Some students work best in their own cubicle. For others, a good spot is in the front of the room. For others still, the ideal spot might be along the perimeters of the room with an empty seat next to him. This may also apply to taking tests in a smaller, quieter setting.
Social Skills Training – This is a special class in relating to others, often taught by a Speech Language Pathologist trained in pragmatics. This can help students express their thoughts clearly and learn skills like participating in a group discussion or conversation. One problem many spectrum folk have is knowing how to “jump in” to a conversation. They either jump in inappropriately and thus are perceived as rude, or say little and are then seen as being shy and quiet.
Study Skills/Organizational Skills Training – This special class can help individuals with executive function issues learn different ways to study, to be organized, how to keep an agenda up-to-date with assignments, made sure the student understood the assigned homework, etc. It can help the student discover what works organizationally, and will be invaluable for things like term papers and research projects.
Assistive Technology – Use of computers, tablets, and smartphones can be invaluable assets for organization, being able to read one’s notes, etc. Many applications can be co-opted to help students with autism to thrive at school. Even the clock and to-do list functions that come standard with most smart phones can be an invaluable tool. For example, they can be used to help a student remember the steps needed for a project or task. For example, Apple’s iPod Touch can be programmed by an occupational therapist to guide a student through the day, providing specific instructions that can be referenced when he or she forgets what to do or how to do something. It can also help with switching to different tasks for people who tend to perseverate on one thing.
Here are some examples of how assistive technology can be used:
- Smart phone or palm pilot and software to coordinate with a laptop.
- Digital recorder with zoom microphone to record lectures and the software that will allow a computer to transcribe the lectures.
- Talk-to-type voice recognition software.
- Inspiration or a similar program to help with the organization of papers.
- Franklin lexigraphic tool for university/grad level vocabulary
Taking Notes – Keyboarding instead of handwriting can be a simple but important accommodation for individuals on the spectrum with motor coordination issues. Other possibilities are getting notes from another student or getting outlines or notes from the teacher.
Instructions should be direct and explicit, with the information broken down into smaller segments. This is because many spectrum students are very literal and may not follow metaphors and similes. Repeat, rephrase and clarify directions and information to ensure understanding. Encourage the student to restate instructions to check for understanding.
An extra set of textbooks kept at home can be invaluable for students with organizational issues who often forget to bring work home.
Large projects can be daunting for some students. A student who is stuck and unable to start a project may need help in breaking the complex task down into its individual parts. Write these steps down for next time. It helps to have the directions written down and spelled out to refer to. Help students think of one thing to begin a large task. Don’t worry whether it should be the first step, middle step, or last step.
Monitoring – In the lunchroom and at recess, spectrum students need unobtrusive monitoring to make sure they aren’t bullied. Students on the spectrum are often easy targets for bullies, because of differences in perception, odd behavior, taking things too literally, and gullibility.
Many people worry that accommodations in school will not prepare the child for an independent life as an adult. But this should not be a problem if we consider the following when choosing accommodations for the student: Will this skill be important in adult life? Will it adversely affect adult functioning? Is it limited to the educational environment? For example, cursive writing is not really necessary in our computer age, and people with fine motor coordination issues can have problems with this all their lives.
If the skill that is being accommodated is something that will be needed in the future, does the student need special instruction in this area? For example, many individuals on the spectrum need training in social skills, reading body language, or having a conversation – things that neurotypical kids pick up intuitively. If this is a temporary, short-term accommodation while the student masters a more functional strategy, a periodic review is needed to determine whether he still needs the accommodation, or whether it is time to modify or drop it.
Many autistic spectrum kids will eventually develop skills needed to function independently in the adult world. But some children may never be able to live completely independently, and may need to live with family, in a group home or have outside supports. Others will be pretty functional, but still need a family member or other “designated person” to give advice and lend a helping hand from time to time.
Yvona Fast is the author of a career guide for individuals with ASD. Employment for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome or Nonverbal Learning Disability was published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers in 2004. Her website, www.wordsaremyworld.com, has more information. She also works as Support Groups Manager for GRASP (the Global Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership).