Kids with ASD can be a tricky mix of communication, organisational, sensory and social challenges. These can get in the way of kids reaching their potential. Luckily there are lots of strategies that help kids feel calm and focused and so help them achieve at their best both at home and at school. Here are a few:
Strategies for communicating:
1. Don't make ASD kids look at you all of the time. They often find making eye contact stressful and may find it hard to integrate visual and auditory information at the same time so if they are looking at you they may not be listening. Remember just because they are not looking at you does not mean they are not listening. When giving instructions or information cue kids to "listen" rather than to "look at me".
2. Give kids time to answer questions. Kids vary in the time they need to process information and some kids may need up to 30 seconds so wait before repeating an instruction or question. Be aware of how long each child needs to respond and wait for them to answer. Using kids names to get their attention and using visuals may reduce the amount of time needed for kids to respond.
3. Support kids to move beyond "don't know" If a child says "don't know", "yes", "maybe" or "can't remember" this may not be their true answer. Giving time to respond and support with visuals may get a more accurate response.
4. Limit choices and be very specific with choices. Too many choices can be overwhelming. Make choices very clear and specific and limited to two or three.
5. Be as clear, concise and concrete with instructions as possible. Reduce verbal information to the most important key words. Be clear and use concrete words.
6. Be careful with negatives. Tell kids what to do, rather than what not to do. Don't use the word "no" unless you never, ever want the child to do that thing.
7. Avoid verbal overload. Kids with ASD are visual learners.Keep verbal information to a minimum.Support verbal information with visuals. Allow more time to process verbal information.
8. Avoid verbal arguments. Kids with high functioning autism and Asperger's enjoy arguments and can keep this up for a long time. Avoid getting drawn into long discussions. Redirect children to what you want them to do.
Speech pathologists can help support children's communication development and provide support and individualised strategies for children to help them succeed at home and school. Find out more about how speech pathology can help your child.
Strategies for getting things done:
9. Break tasks up into smaller chunks. If the task is long give small rewards or breaks for completing sections. Use a visual such as a checklist and mark off completed parts so children can see their progress.
10. Don't start with a blank page. Use templates, planners and starter sentences to get things going as kids with ASD often find it hard to start tasks.
11. Use visuals. Visuals can help kids to understand what is going on around them which reduces anxiety and increases independence. Visuals can also help kids understand what is required of them, measure their progress and see how much more they have to go. They can also see what the reward is at the end of a task. Visuals may include the use of symbols, schedules or photographs or even written words depending on the child's ability. Model the use of visuals and help children practice using the visuals. Use the visuals consistently and provide opportunities for repetition. Click here for more on visuals for preschool and visuals for school aged kids.
12. Use timers. Timers help children understand how long they are able or need to do a task or activity. They can be used to help kids complete activities you want them to do, limit and help them move from activities they enjoy and also to manage rewards. Show the child the timer and explain how it will be used. Make sure you follow through with what you have said. Over time timers often help kids move between tasks independently.
13. Use organisational supports. ASD students often struggle with organisation but can be helped with the use of organisational aides such as dairies, schedules and colour coded books. Organisational supports may include colour coding of books and setting up visuals such as timetables and lists for managing equipment such as things to be placed on the desk, things take for homework and things to put in a schoolbag.
14. Help ASD kids organise their equipment. Everything in one folder may be best for older kids. Personal items on their desk rather than shared items such as pencil tins may be best for younger kids. Upright boxes for books work better than a pile. These boxes can be moved to lockers when a child is older.
15. Work alongside the student, not only providing the resources they need but also providing the modelling, practice, teaching, consistency and repetition needed to learn to use these strategies. This will help the student move to a more independent management of their own behaviour. In the long term this will reduce the amount of time and effort needed by an adult. For school students parents and teachers need to work together to provide the consistency needed for the child to develop independence.
16. Remember kids with ASD don't "generalise" easily between different situations and people. Information needs to be very clear and specific and skills need to be taught and practiced in different settings. Supports such as visuals need to be as close as possible to the situation where they will be used.
17. Use a variety of strategies as needed. Some strategies will wear out and need to be changed over time. Rewards wear out and need to be changed at times too.
18. Use rewards related to special interests. Typical kids enjoy rewards such as praise and stickers because they are motivated by adult approval. This does not always work for kids with ASD. Rewards related to the child's special interests are often far more motivating.
19. Match the reward to the child. Younger and low functioning kids need rewards more frequently. Older kids may be able to wait longer for a reward, but not too long, especially with a new or difficult task.
20. Set up for success. A reward won't work if you never get to it. Make sure in the beginning that tasks are short and achievable so that the child gets their reward and wants to try again.
21. Match the reward to the effort required. Big or tricky tasks need bigger rewards, while familiar or easier tasks need smaller rewards. If all the rewards are the same kids may not want to try trickier things. Remember for ASD kids new tasks are tricky, or even scary just because they are new, even if the actual activity is not difficult. So begin with big rewards, given quickly for trying new activities and gradually fade rewards as the task becomes more familiar.
22. Give ASD kids positive feedback to know they are on the right track. They often fear failure and want to be perfect. Positive feedback can be linked with concrete rewards linked to special interests as this is highly motivating.
Talking Matters now has an ASD consultant who can help develop individual supports and strategies for children to use at home and at school. Find out more about this service.
Managing sensory, social and emotional challenges:
23. Remember that anxiety is a common emotion for kids with ASD. It is often the cause of meltdowns and behaviour issues. Anxiety is often caused by sensory overload and/or social overload.
24. Use visual schedules to increase predictability. Uncertainty and change are stressfull for kids with ASD. Schedules help with predictability and support kids to understand changes to routines.
25. Reduce the sensory load placed on the child. Be aware of what types of sensory stimulation is stressful for the child and reduce this when possible. This may mean reducing noise levels, visual distractions, some activities that may be noisy or involve unpleasant stimulation of the child's sense of touch or smell.
26. Be aware of the social load and how it impacts on the child's anxiety levels. Break up group activities with time for quiet, independent activities.
27. Use calming sensory experiences to reduce anxiety. Movement, pressure, fiddle toys and other strategies can have a calming and focusing effect on kids. An occupational therapist can help you find what works best for a child's individual needs.
28. Use break times. Notice signs of anxiety in the child and provide a place where the child can have a break as well as some calming activities for the child to do during their break. This may be a quiet place with some sensory toys or a calming favourite activity. Use consistency and repetition to help a child to understand how to use their break time. They may also need to provide some visuals or timers to manage the break time. Help the child learn to request a break before their behaviour becomes unmanageable and to rejoin the group after they are feeling calm.
29. Use social stories to help kids know how to respond in social situations. Social stories help make social situations more predictable and therefore less stressful.
30. Specifically teach social skills. Children with ASD do not "absorb" social skills from being with others in the way typical kids do. They can however learn these skills with specific teaching and practice.
Talking Matters has a team of occupational therapists who can help with children's sensory challenges. We also have a pscyhologist to help with social, emotional and behvioural challenges. Find out more about how Talking Matters can help your child and support your family.
Talking Matters provides assessment, diagnosis, therapy and support for children on the autism spectrum and their families. We are providers under NDIA and FAHCSIA programs and we are also happy to accept medicare plans. To find out more about our services and our team visit our website. To connect with our community of families, therapists and educators join us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
We hope you find these strategies helpful for the person in your life with ASD!
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