Step Three: Develop a Program of Study
Your program of study must be individualized. You are teaching a unique individual, who just happens to have more barriers to overcome than you could ever imagine. It is for this reason that you must keep three things in mind when developing a program of study.
- Use concepts of differentiated instruction when developing a program for an autistic student. Differentiation has been defined by early childhood development consultant Kathy Bigio as, “the right of each pupil to be taught in a way specifically tailored to their individual learning needs.”
- Make sure that you include daily exercises that will strengthen the five main areas that all autistic students experience difficulties in. An activity that seems simple but incorporates all five is Tic-Tac-Toe; academics—mathematical-based logic puzzle and analysis; social interaction—game play and learning how to take turns; emotional exploration—how does it feel to win or lose; communication—listen to and understand instructions; and physical abilities—fine motor control.
- Use the provincial curriculum. Start with the overall expectations and use them to develop assessments. Then, use the specific expectations to develop, and/or choose workbooks/worksheets for your student.
Step Four: Use Resources
Resources can be broken down into three categories: paper, technology and people.
The key people resources are the parents/guardians of the student. Developing a working relationship with parents/guardians will assist in monitoring the progress of the student. They can become strong allies in ensuring an academic career that is filled with successes instead of failures.
- Support Workers:
Support workers fulfill three main functions: They assist the student in social situations, both inside the school and in the community; they serve as a bridge between teachers and parents/guardians; and they can assist teachers with difficult academic concepts that may not be readily grasped by students. They may also serve as an emotional stabilizer for the student during transitions. Developing a respectful relationship with support workers will assist both you and your student.
- Speech Therapists & Librarians:
Due to the fact that autistic students have difficulty with communication, enlisting aid from speech therapists and librarians is key for both you and your student. The speech therapist can offer insight and support in mastering auditory language skills, and the librarian can offer support in the mastering of visual language skills.
Never has there been a time when technological resources were so plentiful and so portable! If you take a look at the standard cellphone you will see that they come equipped with assistive technologies. One tool that falls under the heading of assistive technologies is an application that will talk for you. This means that a non-verbal student can type a message on his/her cellphone, press, “Speak,” and the phone will speak for them! These students have access to their own, personal translator.
Another key device is the iPad. There are a plethora of applications and programs that can be downloaded (many for free) to assist students in the mastery of math, English, social skills and communication. Due to the nature of the iPad, anyone who uses it is also increasing their visual and spatial awareness, dexterity and fine-motor control.
Once you have established a grade level for your student, invest in workbooks that meet both the grade level expectations and will assist in acquiring skills in various areas of need. For example, if the student experiences difficulty in language acquisition, utilize workbooks in the following key areas: grammar, spelling and phonics; reading—both fiction and factual; word searches and crosswords. Do not feel that developing an individualized program of study means that you need to develop all the paper resources for each autistic student in your class. In other words, it may not be necessary to reinvent the wheel.
Keeping these four basic steps in mind will ensure that both you and your student have a successful school year.