Strategies for ASD

To continue with our focus on autism for autism awareness month, here is a recap of some of our past blogs on strategies for working with kids on the autism spectrum. The right strategies can make a huge difference to a child with ASD both at home and at school. All kids are different though, so not all strategies work with all kids. Kids change over time too and so a strategy that is successful now may need to be modified or replaced later on.It is important for parents, carers and teachers to be aware of a range of strategies to find those that work best for the child in their care. These strategies tend to work really well for other kids too not just those on the autism spectrum.

Many of these ideas are based on work by Sue Larkey, including her workshop titled "Making it a success" which many of the Talking Matters team attended in 2012 as well as some of the "tip sheets" available on Sue's website. Sue is a dynamic speaker with lots of great practical and hands on ideas for working with kids with autism and Asperger's syndrome. She believes that with the right understanding and strategies it is possible to help kids succeed at home, in the classroom and in therapy. Here are a few of her key points:

1. Students with ASD don't have to look at you all of the time.

  • Kids with ASD often find eye contact stressful
  • Kids with ASD 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.
  • 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 time to answer questions

  • Kids vary in the time they need to process information and with some kids it may be up to 30 seconds
  • Be aware of how long each child needs to respond and wait for them to answer
  • Reduce time needed to process by using the child's name and by using visuals

3. If kids feel pressured they will answer with stock standard answers

  • If a kid says "don't know", "yes", "maybe" or "can't remember" this may not be their true answer.
  • Give time to respond and support with visuals if possible and you may get a more accurate response.

4. Kids with ASD don't "generalise" between different situations and people.

  • Information needs to be very clear and specific
  • 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

5. They find organisation of their school equipment very difficult

  • 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. Boxes can be moved to lockers later on.

6. Limit choices and be very specific with choices.

  • Too many choices can be overwhelming
  • Make choices very clear and specific

7. Be as clear, concise and concrete as possible

  • Reduce verbal information to the most important key words
  • Be clear and use concrete words
  • Tell what to do not what not to do
  • Don't use the word "no" unless you never, ever want the child to do that

8. 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

9. Avoid verbal arguements

  • 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 the child to what you want them to do

10. People with ASD need positive feedback to know they are on the right track

  • They often fear failure and want to be perfect
  • Positive feedback can include concrete rewards linked to special interests as this is highly motivating

Sue talks about the need for adults including parents to use a 50/50 approach to help kids with ASD. She reported that the adults 50% is the effort needed to teach the child to use the strategies which have been put in place. The student’s efforts to use the strategies and manage their own behaviour is their 50% contribution. She reported that parents and teachers often just expect that the child will know what to do with the strategies that have been put in place and use them all by themselves straight away. Instead she says that students need to be taught by the adults how to use the strategies.

There are two types of strategies. Strategies that adults can use to manage the child’s behaviour and strategies for the child to use to manage their own behaviour. In the beginning it may seem like the adult is doing all the work but as the student learns to work with the strategies provided the adult will gradually need to do less and less until eventually the effort is about 50/50.

Sue writes that some of the actions which may be needed at both home and school to help students learn how to use the strategies include the following:

  • Modelling
  • Practice
  • Persistence
  • Small steps
  • Consistency
  • Repetition
  • A range of strategies
  • Rewards for using strategies independently
  • Social stories
  • Timers
  • Visuals

Here are some examples of how the 50-50 idea works:

Visuals. Visuals can help the student to understand what is going on around them which reduces anxiety and increases independence. The adults role is to provide a range of visuals to support the child’s understanding. This may include the use of symbols, schedules or photographs or even written words depending on the student’s ability. The adult would then be required to model the use of visuals, help the student practice using the visuals, use the visuals consistently and provide opportunities for repetition. The child’s role would then be to learn how to use the visuals, to understand any changes that are occurring and to manage their anxiety when these changes occur. Click here for more on visuals for preschool and visuals for school aged kids.

Using timers. Timers help a child understand how long they are able or need to do a task or activity. The adult’s role is to provide the timer and pre-warn the student about how it will be used. The adult would then help the student via modelling, practice, persistence, consistency and repetition to understand the use of the timer. The student’s responsibility is then to understand the time limits and to start and finish the tasks or activities as agreed.

Using break times. The adult’s role is to notice signs of anxiety in the student and to provide a place where the student 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. The adult’s role is then to use consistency and repetition to help a student understand how to use their break time. They may also need to provide some visuals or timers to manage the break time. The student’s responsibility is to request a break before their behaviour becomes unmanageable. It is also their responsibility to rejoin the group after they are feeling calm.

Using 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. It is the adult’s responsibility to help setup organisational supports such as 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 for home work and the content of the student’s bag. The adult would then use modelling, practice, persistence, visuals and possibly social stories to help the student understand how to use the supports. The student’s responsibility is to use the organisational supports independently.

By working 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, the adult can 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 the adult. For school students parents and teachers need to work together to provide the consistency needed for the student to develop independence.

To learn more about supporting students with ASD visit Sue’s website. She has a wealth of knowledge and has a regular newsletter as well as downloadable tip sheets, books, resources and workshops available.

Talking Matters provides a range of services to children on the autism spectrum with autism, Asperger's syndrome and PDD-NOS, including diagnostic assessments, speech and language assessments, therapy, school visitsand tutoring. We are providers under the FAHCSIA "Helping children with autism" early intervention package and also provide services to older children under the medicare rebate program for children with autism. We have a range of free information and resources available to download from our website and useful links on our pintrest and Facebook pages to other useful sites.

We hope you find it a valuable and rewarding experience to work together with the special child in your life.

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