According to the latest national statistics, 1 in 88 children between the ages of 3 and 17 are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) (Autism Speaks, 2013). In the last decades, this relatively obscure disorder has evolved into what some now term the “autism epidemic,” affecting hundreds of thousands of families across the nation. Whether it be a family member, friend, classmate, or coworker, the frequency of autism has increased so that almost everyone, by some degree of separation, is connected to someone with autism.
This has profound implications for all of our lives, especially for teachers who inevitably during their career will encounter students on the spectrum. As an aspiring teacher, I think it is critical that teacher education programs recognize the importance of preparing future educators to respond to the distinct challenges of ASD students and value the unique contributions they can make in the classroom.
In her book The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Aspberger’s, Temple Grandin (2011), the famous autistic animal rights activist, asks, “What would happen if autism was eliminated from the gene pool? You would have a bunch of people standing around in a cave, chatting and socializing and not getting anything done.” What Grandin’s humorous answer reminds us is that we must learn to value different ways of thinking, even if they do not fit into our notions of “normal.”
This investigation project aims to explore the world of autism and ways in which teachers can create successful and supportive environments for their ASD students. I will define autism from a clinical perspective, discuss some common characteristics of autistic learners, examine classroom management strategies, and suggest ways in which teachers can advocate for their students on the spectrum. Furthermore, I will introduce the TEACCH Autism program (used widely in North Carolina) and recommend additional resources for those wishing to pursue more on the subject.
While I cannot expect to address the vast catalogue of information on autism within the confines of this project, I do hope to give my audience a basic understanding of ASD and provide ideas and resources on “best practices” to utilize in the classroom.
Welcome to my project!