7 Keys to Unlock your Student’s Potential

Teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops.


As a mother of a child on the Autism Spectrum, autism was thrust upon me. I wasn’t given a choice. But you, a special educator, chose to take this up as your profession. Hats off to you! I commend you for making this noble choice.


When I started SAI in 2004, I remember spending a lot of time training teachers about Autism. They said that they had heard about ASD, but they didn’t quite understand it. Autism was a paragraph in a text book!


Thankfully, things are much better these days.


Dr Rubina Lal, who heads the Suvidya Centre of Special Education says, “There is a sea change from the way things were 20 years ago. Even in those days, teachers had good intentions, but they had little knowledge about autism. We’ve come a long way. Today, we’ve published research in several areas of autism. And all this, without the government aid.”


Yes, the change is admirable. Efforts of Dr Lal and countless parents and professionals working with children with autism, education and traininghas pushed ahead.


However, not all is well. A few critical areas still are waiting to be addressed. According to Merry Barua, Parent and Autism Activist, “Special educators need to understand the implications of autism. If a child speaks they assume he understands everything. Remember that he may have a good rote memory. He could have by-hearted some answers, but this doesn’t mean that he understands everything. On the other hand, if he doesn’t speak, they assume that he doesn’t understand anything. These assumptions call for in-depth teacher training, in terms of implementation of services.”


Talking with these stalwarts got me thinking.


Yes, on a macro level things have improved. On a micro level though, I think we still need to work hard to ensure that children on the spectrum receive top notch treatment and care. We need change agents for this shift in perspective.


You, dear teacher, are the change agent.


24 years ago, when Mohit was diagnosed, ASD was considered to be a stigma and disability with a bleak future. Today, it is a neuro diversity. People with ASD are sought after by companies in the US, as they believe that these highly sophisticated and specialized brains, can add immense value.


I’ve spent twenty years studying and teaching children with autism, and imparting knowledge by training parents and professionals. Yet I feel that there are miles to go and many layers to be unearthed for me. I still have so much to learn.


Do you feel this way too? How do you look at Autism?


I’d like to share some rules that I follow whenever I work with a child. They have always stood me in good stead. I hope they will prove useful to you as well.


1. Presume intellect


This is my absolute favorite.


I am convinced that people with ASD understand everything. Many of our students are non vocal. This doesn’t mean that they don’t understand. It also doesn’t mean that they have nothing to say.


When I go in with this presumption, unimaginable doors open up.


teach autistic child to speak


2. Slow down


Do not bombard with instructions. Give them time to process.


When you are working with children with autism, or ask them to do something, they may not do it immediately. They may appear to not have heard you at all. In truth though, they have taken it in.


Don’t believe me? Try it out. Ask them to do something. Don’t repeat yourself. Give them 45 seconds. See what happens.


3. Focus on strengths


Everybody has some area of expertise, something that they’re good it.


Have you found something that each of your students is good at? If not, then spend time with them and find them out. They will astonish you.


Once you find them out (trust me, you will find more than one strength), focus on those strengths one-by-one.


One of my 5 year olds had excellent reading skills. Once we discovered that, we used reading in most of our frameworks. Not only did that keep him engaged, but it also helped us to address and sort challenging for him, like referencing and joint attention.


4. Understand how the child learns


Each child learns differently.


Some are visual learners, some auditory, some kinesthetic, and so on. Have you heard of the theory of multiple intelligences by Developmental Psychologist Howard Gardner? It offers tremendous insight into 8 different learning styles. Gardner’s theory is a critique of the standard intelligence theory.


By spending some time assessing a child, you can figure out his predominant learning style.


This will become the most important tool in your arsenal when you are teaching students with autism.

 working with autistic students and children

5. Break things down into steps


Give your students one challenge at a time. Break it down effectively.


When you set up a teaching session, keep in mind what your challenges in the activity will be.


We use the below framing sheet for planning activities at SAI Connections. You can use it too.

Framing and Scaffolding Sheet (click to download - credits RDI Connect)

6. Make parents a part of your team


When in doubt ask the mother.


It works all the time. You will be amazed at how perceptive a mother is. All successful programs have parental input and parent training as part of the program.


Remember, at the end of the day, the child goes home. This is where the ‘real change’ should show.


7. Treat every child with dignity and respect


We want to treat all our students with respect. We all think we do it.


But have you caught yourself talking about the child to somebody else in his presence? Does you exasperation show in front of the child?


You may not mean to do it, but things like these spell disrespect. Please be aware of these small, but very important things.


This message from the New Age Guru Mahatria Ra is a must see for every teacher.


Even if you’ve seen this before, please watch it again.


I promise you, it’s worth it!



Dear teacher, you made a choice and took on this challenge to be a teacher. You can make another choice: the choice to be a game changer in the life of a child with Autism.


Can you imagine how it would be to be another Mrs. Thompson? Imagine how you can change the the lives of not only children but their families too – families who look up to you for everything.


Imagine how much value you would add in this world. How fulfilling would it be to enhance hundreds (and thousands) of lives like that. Your work of teaching children with autism can create waves – ripples at first and then become so towering that no force can stop them.


I would love to leave behind a legacy like that. Wouldn’t you?



  • Suzie Hachez says:

    Totally agree with the advices given. Those ideas have helped us to helped our students in a mainstream school. Over the years, they managed to get through their board exams, went to colleges/university and are today young working adults.
    We made and still make many parents happy by sharing their challenges and becoming an active part of bringing solutions for their little ones with autism.
    At the end of the day, you know you have made a difference in their life! Isn’t that all about teaching?

  • Vani Venu says:

    Lovely! Have experienced all this at SAI and discovered a lot with my child as well.

  • Lionel says:

    Self-awareness program in Chennai

  • This year I have learned so much from the students in my room who have not yet mastered their voice to communicate, entirely, through spoken words. They have taught me to listen with my heart and to expand my own communicative capacities. We are reviewing sign language and alternative/augmentative communication options daily. By far the most important communication mechanisms I have embraced (pun intended) is the open-armed hug, accompanied by a wide, sincere smile EVERY morning when my precious students enter our classroom. I am genuinely happy to see them, they have taught me so much (even this late in my teaching career that started in 1088!) and they have re-energized my absolute love for teaching in spite of the stupid test-mentality that continues to strangle our profession.
    Whenever the humanity is factored out of a human profession – teaching – the result is developmentally inappropriate expectations combined with testing for the sake of generating data that has, if anything, revealed that testing is a colossal waste of time: especially when results are tied to the quality of teaching and NOT the inane/inappropriate testing mechanisms that have been put in place to make greedy “professioals” who have written “prescriptive” Reading and Math programs (um…that don’t work, for the most part if the real data is checked) very, very rich. *sigh*
    Let’s bring the Child back into Childhood Education!
    M.A. Early & Middle Childhood Education
    OSU Class of ’95

  • OOPs. missed a few typos in my rant. Sorry.

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The Importance of a Parent Training Program
For Individuals on the Autism Spectrum

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