Before discussing the proper methods of intervention and management for children with autism, it is best to first have a brief background of the disorder.
Since the goal of educating children is to allow them to acquire knowledge, skills, and independence (Myers, 2007), educators should exert effort to help children maximize their capabilities. In order to do that, there must be proper understanding of the characteristics common among children with autism.
Autism is a neurobiological and behavioral disorder that often lasts throughout the lifetime of a person. This disorder, which is belongs to the class of disorders known as autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and developmental disorders, basically affects the behavior of a person (Hill & Frith, 2003).
A person with autism has an impaired ability in communicating and relating to other people. In contrast with the ordinary behavior of most people, children with autism tend to stick with repetitive behaviors and restricted interests, and rigid routines. Thus, children with autism suffer from lack of social and communication skills (Hill & Frith, 2003).
Two of the common characteristics among autistic persons that are not related to social development are repetitive behavior and differences in intellectual functioning.
These characteristics pose serious challenges for any individual educator or institution that intends to provide education and an appropriate learning environment for children with autism. It is noteworthy to note, however, that autism is a disorder that is known for its wide spectrum of behavioral characteristics and severity. Thus, each child with autism would require special and personalized treatment (Hill & Frith, 2003).
Autistic children do not have an “intuitive theory of mind.” This means that these children lack the intuitive mental ability to process everyday events (Hill & Frith, 2003). Sufficient knowledge of the weaknesses and strengths is important in dealing with children with autism disorders.
Thus, it is important to know that autistic children have a “markedly uneven pattern of intelligence.” More specifically, autistic children could achieve outstanding performances due to their capacity for maintaining focus and attention and retaining factual information. Moreover, autistic children have “rote memory (Hill & Frith, 2003).”
Knowing these strengths makes it easier for educators to plan for activities and assignments for autistic children. Thus, activities that harness children’s abilities for retaining facts and information could be planned. For example, since autistic children are known for their perseverance, activities that improve or harness such trait, such as sorting and classifying stuff could be planned for them.
Through such activities, autistic children could feel that there are things where they could be good at, and this could be good for their self-esteem. Autistic children could also learn how to set goals and use their abilities in achieving them. Finally, knowledge of the strengths of their students could also help educators in setting realistic goals for their students.
On the other hand, autistic children's weaknesses include lack of common sense, failure of comprehension, and poor strategic planning (Hill & Frith, 2003). Similar with the above, knowledge of autistic children’s weaknesses would help in the planning of activities by educators.
Firstly, educators could design activities and lessons designed to make children stronger in fields where they lack abilities. Secondly, this knowledge would help educators when dealing with such children, specifically in showing understanding and compassion.
Knowledge of the intellectual limitations of children with autism should point educators to the right direction when formulating their lesson plans. For example, educators could focus on tests and activities that teach or train autistic children in learning how to understand sentence context or achieving coherence. In addition, educators could help children with autism to develop planning skills through carefully planned tasks with set goals, since planning is one of their weaknesses (Hill & Frith, 2003).
As to the second effect of knowing the weaknesses of autistic children, educators should know how to act properly when in the presence of such children to avoid losing patience or composure and only conduct behavior that would encourage children to do better. Thus, people who interact with autistic children should keep in mind that the latter lack control of their impulses and intellectual abilities (Hill & Frith, 2003).
In sum, knowledge of the characteristics of children with autism would help educators in formulating and strategically planning intensive intervention programs for such children, along the lines of the activities described above.
It is also a good idea to maintain a low student-to-teacher ratio so that educators could closely observe and monitor the development of their students (Myers, 2007). Taking into account the tendency of autistics to engage in repetitive behavior, activities of teachers should ensure a “high degree of structure through elements such as predictable routine, visual activity schedules, and clear physical boundaries to minimize distractions (Myers, 2007).”
Hill, E. L. & Frith, U. (2003). Understanding Autism: Insights from Mind and Brain. Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences 358(1430), 281-289.
Myers, S. M. (2007). Management of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved March 20, 2008, from http://www.aap.org/pressroom/AutismMgmt.pdf