Over the past few months, I’ve had the good fortune of conducting orientations about autism at various schools across Mumbai.
It’s encouraging to see teachers who want to work hard to help children with autism and other special needs. With the rate of autism being 1 child in 68 — every teacher will have a student affected by autism in her/his classroom at some point of time.
The teachers I met were warm and eager to learn. They wanted to make a difference. They had their hearts in the right place, but didn’t know how to deal with students with autism spectrum disorders.
Education is in a state of flux. This image explains it beautifully.
Five top questions teachers wanted answers to:
1.) I have 20 students in my class. If I pay attention to this one child, my other students suffer.
Answer: I know this is difficult for one teacher to handle. You will need help. Ask for an assistant teacher to help with the child with special needs. Between the two of you, you could share responsibilities.
A buddy system works well too. You could ask a responsible student to look out for the child with autism. Some children on the spectrum tend to wander. Giving responsibility to another child will help the neuro-typical child too. It will teach her/him compassion, kindness and inclusiveness. It’s a win-win situation.
Some schools allow shadow teachers to assist students. Shadow teachers are hired by parents to look out for their child at school. A shadow teacher can put in some time with the child at home too, so she can understand the student better.
2.) You talked about each child learning differently? How do I understand his learning style?
Answer: Observation is the key. Watch the child carefully. Does he pick up nursery rhymes quickly? Do you hear him singing or humming? Is he inclined towards music? Does he show a heightened interest in letters and numbers? Have you observed him touching and feeling items?
One of my students loves letters and numbers. He could read words before he could speak. We incorporated words and numbers in our interactive activities and he continued to surprise us.
(Check out this post to identify what type of learner your child might be.)
You will have to work closely with the mother to figure this out. Make the mother your ally. She will answer many questions you have. Trust me, a lot of your issues will be addressed if you understand a child’s
This will help you with your typical students too.
3.) How do I tell other students this child is different? You said children with autism understand what people around them say. Won’t the child feel bad?
Answer: Yes, people with autism understand everything. We have many testimonies from non vocal adults on the spectrum expressing that they understood everything as children, even though they didn’t speak.
Remember, it’s up to you how you present different. Different does not necessarily mean bad.
For example: amongst two best friends in your class, each has different likes and dislikes isn’t it?
More than anything else, it’s about your attitude. Remember, those little eyes are watching you carefully to see how you treat differently-abled children.
4.) Don’t children with special needs need to go to special schools?
Every child has a right to education. According to the latest laws, schools cannot turn students with difficulties away.
Children with special needs are a part of our community. They should be accepted and loved, just like every child. It’s more important for typical children to be with those with the differently abled.
The future generation has to understand and accept differences. Right from childhood, if they accept differences, this world will be a better place.
At the end of the day, it should be a parental decision about what suits their child the best- a regular school or a special school.
5.) I have trouble dealing with the child’s mother. She’s unwilling to accept her child’s difficulties. She thinks I’m too strict with her child.
Answer: Since I’m a mother of a young man on the autism spectrum, I identify with a mother’s feelings. Having trained several teachers through my career, I know how you feel too.
Please know that mothers of children with special needs don’t have it easy. It’s difficult for us to understand our special child and have a relationship with them. In addition, we have other family and work responsibilities.
The key is communication. Talk to the mother and take her input about her child. Remember, a mother knows her child the best. Support her and she will support you in return. If you’re a team, nothing can stop the progress of the child.
Dear Teacher, you are responsible for shaping the future generation.
That little child with autism doesn’t know how to express himself. He runs around the classroom and disrupts your class. He covers his ears and makes strange sounds.
But he needs love, understanding and support. Can you be that nurturing angel in his life?
You have a choice. You can give him the love and support. Or you can be indifferent and reject him. If you support him, he can become a Van Gogh or a Mozart. It’s all in your hands.
I have confidence in you. I know you’ll do the right thing. For inherent in you — is the heart of a teacher.