Teaching Students With Autism: 5 Myths and Misconceptions

One of the many hurdles that parents of students who are on the autism spectrum have to overcome, is dealing with the myths that surround the disorder. As a teacher, learning that you’ll be teaching students with autism in your classroom, you’ll want to ensure the highest quality of care and consideration for these children. The following are the 5 most common myths and misconceptions about teaching students with autism.

1. “The student will not understand or can’t do that”

A student may not answer immediately or is perhaps non-verbal, but could still quite possibly know the answer. I have found that my own daughter will sometimes catch onto something quicker than her older “typical” brother. Or, oftentimes, I just need to reword the question to get a response. We should never underestimate a child’s ability.  While teaching students with autism, I have personally witnessed children who had very low perceived ability be introduced to a concept, only to find out that it is a pre-mastered skill. Pre-assessment of a students’ incoming knowledge can help to target where a lesson should focus.

2. “I had a student on the Autism Spectrum last year; I’ll just use the same intervention teaching students with autism this year.”

We all have different learning styles and different speeds in which we learn. Those of you who have been in the education field for many years will certainly find patterns for what works. But, we do have to remember that every child is unique and what worked for one, may not work for the next one. This can be particularly true when working with and teaching students with autism. There is a huge range in the autism spectrum and numerous different sensory tolerances. Be cognizant of each individual child’s uniqueness when planning instruction, implementing an intervention, and writing the IEP for teaching students with autism.

3. “I’m going to do everything I can to help my students. I try out all the intervention ideas that I see and hear about.”

Those of us who parent a child with a disability are probably guiltier of this than others. I, personally, love this attitude and we absolutely want to do everything we can to problem solve and make meaningful improvement to students’ lives. However, when we try to do too much at once, we are not able to analyze what is truly having an effect. It is best to put in place one intervention at a time in order to properly analyze any benefits or any unfortunate consequences. This is difficult when you are teaching students with autism and on the front lines dealing with a major behavioral issue, but it’s best to give it time in order to evaluate effectiveness.

4. “I studied Autism in college, therefore I am knowledgeable.”

The field of Autism, as well as many other disability categories, is constantly changing as we learn more. Parents are increasingly knowledgeable as well. Professionals need to stay updated in the field and need to demonstrate their commitment in doing so. Researchers are learning more and more each day as the brain is further studied and research is completed for various intervention approaches. The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) is one organization committed to demonstrating that individuals stay up to date in the field by offering certification as a Certified Autism Specialist (for masters level applicants) or an Autism Certificate (for those currently working in the field). Parents want to see that staff working with their child stay up to date with best practices and approaches.

5. “Bobby may have a diagnosis on the Autism Spectrum, but he gets good grades and, therefore, should not qualify for special services.”

Be careful with this one. Court cases and special education law are clear that the definition of “an adverse effect on education” is not limited to grades and test scores. We need to look at all aspects of a child’s education. A student with Autism may have excellent grades, but is not able to appropriately socialize with peers. Each and every case needs to be looked at, individually, without pre-judgment, in regards to the whole child.

I have personally experienced both the benefits and the struggle in working in a school setting teaching students with autism, as well as parenting a child with a disability. There are certainly more, but these are the most prevalent misconceptions about working with students on the Autism Spectrum that I have noticed and/or experienced. Comment below to share your own stories and experiences.

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