Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)


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Every year there are more and more children born with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and there is more of a need for accommodation for their needs. “The future will likely present teachers with even more students with learning disabilities” (Gerstle and Walsh 35). With these numbers increasing, it is important for teachers and the people around them to understand their struggles and needs. Children and adults with ASD struggle in many areas. They have difficulties taking on daily activities that most people take for granted. There are variations in the severity of these disorders. Some people are very high functioning and have little to no problem performing daily activities, as well as completing complex ones. However, many people with ASD suffer from severe forms of the disorder and cannot care for themselves. No matter the severity, people with autism get support and some form of education, whether it be to care for themselves, or to become educated and eventually contribute to society. Those with moderate to high functioning ASD go to school and some eventually go on to further their education. Despite the struggles specific to each person, they can still be taught effective writing skills.

To teach these individuals proper writing skills, it is crucial for educators to understand them and know how to teach them. There are many methods of teaching for educators to use to fit the specific needs of their students. Children and adults with autism spectrum disorders can still be taught effective writing skills through understanding and cooperation of teachers, proven methods of teaching and continuous support. Informing teachers of the areas that students with autism spectrum disorder struggle in will better help them understand and proactively cooperate with their students to provide effective writing instruction. Many students with ASD are misunderstood and do not get the proper education that they need, which will negatively impact their abilities to write. Teachers with autistic students need to take the time necessary to understand their students and learn how to work with them in order to effectively teach them. Once teachers have an understanding of their students and the areas that they struggle in, they can then communicate with them to effectively teach them how to write. It is important for educators to understand the struggles and needs of students with autism to provide effective writing instruction. Before any complex writing instruction is given, educators must evaluate their students to determine where they should begin.

For teachers to do this, they need to have an understanding of the types of areas students with ASD struggle with. Some of these areas include distractions in the classroom and learning differences. When instructors use overhead projectors to provide writing instruction, students may be distracted by the flickering or the subtle sounds of the machines that other people would never notice (Kluth and Chandler-Olcott 11). With these distractions, it would be very difficult for students to stay focused and would prevent them from learning the basic skills they would need to write effectively.

Many students with autism are also hypersensitive to certain textures and smells, so they may reject some reading material required for a writing assignment. They also struggle with typical classroom behavior such as sitting still for long periods of time, participating in classroom discussions, and following along with reading material (Kluth and Chandler-Olcott 8). This will negatively impact any progress that they could be making in developing the skills necessary to write. Autistic people often make sudden, unintentional comments/noises and movements, commonly mistaken as interest in participation (Kluth and Chandler-Olcott 8). It is important for instructors to know the difference between these unintentional acts and actual class participation because they need to know if the students actually comprehend the writing instructions. Students with autism often struggle with basic concepts, such as speech and language skills. If students have trouble learning speech and language, then they will have difficulties when it comes to writing and composition. This is why it is important for educators to know how to teach students with autism, so that they can later learn effective writing skills. This can be done by gradually developing speech and language skills through a process called speech imitation training (Luiselli 99). After students are thoroughly taught these skills, they can begin learning the skills needed to write. Once teachers understand the potential struggles for students with ASD, they can then assess them to determine the necessary methods of teaching.

Educators can begin to understand their students’ specific areas of difficulty by asking reflective questions such as what type of situations the students succeed in, certain gifts they might have, ways to help them learn and succeed, and what the instructor can learn from them (Kluth and Chandler-Olcott 46). After instructors use methods such as this, they will have a more thorough understanding of their students and what it will take to teach them effective writing. Once educators understand the needs of students with autism, they can proactively cooperate with them to teach effective writing skills.

One effective way for teachers to cooperate with their students is by setting high expectations. “Once you have established high but reasonable expectations for an individual student, it is crucial to think how you can help that student meet these expectations in the context of your classroom” (Kluth and Chandler-Olcott 47). When teachers set these expectations for their students and work with them to achieve these goals, the students will begin to grasp the concepts and writing skills needed. Students with autism lack the same learning abilities as other students, so it is important to “show them all of the ways you read, write, listen, speak, and represent ideas, including some that you might previously have taken for granted” (Kluth and Chandler-Olcott 47). This will ensure that students will be able to effectively learn writing skills based on their individual needs. It is also important to gather students’ opinions as to what method of learning they prefer because students with autism have different preferences.

Many students like working in groups and interacting socially, but those with autism might find it very intimidating and frustrating (Kluth and Chandler-Olcott 51). Instructors should know this because it could be negatively impacting students’ abilities to write due to their feelings of discomfort. With a firm understanding of their students on the autism spectrum, instructors can apply this information in the classroom to ensure that their students learn effective writing skills.Effective writing can be taught to students with autism by using methods of teaching that experts and educators find most helpful. Before people knew much about Autism Spectrum Disorders, people with the disorders would live their lives constantly being misunderstood in the classroom, resulting in ineffective education. Now that teachers have begun to understand them, there are now proven methods of teaching that can educate students with autism how to write effectively. When teachers take the time to understand their students’ specific needs, they can determine which methods of teaching will be most effective.

Thanks to many research studies and expert opinions, it is easier than ever before to teach students the effective writing skills they need to be successful in higher education and future careers. Over the years, experts and educators have seen a wide variety of students and have compiled a number of effective methods of providing writing education to students with autism. Some of these methods include creating a flexible classroom, using learning stations, and providing effective writing instruction.

A flexible classroom is crucial when teaching complex tasks such as writing. Every student develops at his or her own pace, so instructors need to create an environment where each student is given the help or challenges necessary. Instead of teaching material that seems focused towards the average level of the class, instructors should create an environment that stretches to allow students that are ahead or behind to get the instruction they need (Kluth and Chandler-Olcott 56). Some students with autism need a lot of attention and help to make sure that they acquire the skills necessary to write, while other students need more challenging material to better the writing skills that they already have. Another method of providing writing instruction is through “Learning Stations” (Kluth and Chandler-Olcott 60).

Learning stations are “special spots in the classroom where the teacher has set up curriculum-related activities that students can pursue autonomously” (Kluth and Chandler-Olcott 60). This is extremely beneficial to students with autism because they can try different methods of writing to find which one they are most comfortable with. Writing stations are made up of different materials that students could use to create and write a story. Some stations might have paints, while others have crayons or pens/pencils. There could also be stations with computers or electronics to write with as well. The goal is to find what students with autism are comfortable with because they will be more motivated to learn and practice to write. Two other effective ways that educators could provide writing instruction is by improving writing through visual imaging and using Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI).

The study discussed in “Autism Spectrum Disorders in the College Composition Classroom: Making Writing Instruction More Accessible for All Students” required college students with autism to write about a sequence of photos of a child running (Gerstle and Walsh 125). When the students wrote about the images and their sequence, researchers concluded that they were able to use a more vivid description than if they discussed what was seen verbally or with images (Gerstle and Walsh 125). Teachers should consider this method of teaching effective writing because students with autism might get a better understanding of what they are writing about due to the vivid image of it in their mind. Another study was done in the collaborative essay, “Using Simultaneous Prompting and Computer-Assisted Instruction to Teach Story Writing to Students with Autism”; three students with autism were tested to see if the use of computer-technology is an effective medium to teach students to write (Pennington et. al. 26). Their task was to construct sentences and then create a story out of four sentences placed in a certain order (Pennington et. al. 29). They concluded that all participants gained effective knowledge in creating stories and that it works well for students with autism due to the short training sessions and overall benefits (Pennington et. al. 34).

Teachers in elementary and lower education levels should consider this method of teaching students with autism because of its effectiveness in teaching writing skills that can be further developed to create more complex stories. Thanks to these methods of teaching, instructors can apply this information to their classrooms to ensure that students with autism get the education they need to grow as writers.

All students learn more effectively through different methods, especially those with autism, and teachers must apply different methods of teaching to determine the most effective ones to use. “Students with gaps in their knowledge base or skill repertoire will need additional literacy support – most likely provided in small-group or individual settings – to accelerate their progress” (Kluth and Chandler-Olcott 63). Teachers should consider this and then use the methods of instruction that they see as a best fit for their students to learn effective writing. After instructors try different methods of teaching writing skills with their students, they will determine the best ones to provide a fair, effective writing education. Similar to any other individual, students with autism need continuous support and encouragement to motivate them to learn how to write. They need more than just lessons and information to teach them how to write, they need constant support from their teachers. Teachers can encourage greater class participation by informing students that they will be called on, waiting for them to find an answer, and then discuss their answer (Zager et. al. 46). Supporting their answers and being positive and constructive will encourage them to become interested in discussions, ultimately increasing their desire to become better writers. It is also important for teachers to show interest and excitement. “When a teacher explicitly models his or her enthusiasm for literacy, students often find it infectious, making it easier for them to engage in learning” (Kluth and Chandler-Olcott 47).

If students are engaged in learning, then they will be motivated to learn how to write effectively and show that they can improve. In addition to support in the classroom, students with autism need continuous support from families. It is very difficult for students with autism to stay motivated due to their daily struggles, so constant encouragement and support will keep them motivated and interested in becoming a fluent writer.Despite the struggles, criticism, and hardships that children and adults with autism face on a daily basis, it is still possible for them to become effective, fluent writers.

Once teachers get to know their students and the areas in which they need attention, they can give them the help they need. Teachers have a large variety of proven methods of writing instruction to choose from, which makes it easier to give students with autism the specialized instruction they need. This specialized writing instruction, along with positive encouragement and support from teachers and families, can give students a bright outlook on their future. They will be able to communicate more clearly and create ideas and arguments through complex writing.

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