Supporting Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Math)
As part of a Math AQ course, I put together this Dos and Don’ts list for things to consider when working with students with autism. Many of the suggestions can be applied to more than math instruction.
However, there is a saying amongst those who work with these children. “If you’ve worked with one child with autism, you’ve worked with one child with autism.” Generalizations about this disorder, thanks to the spectrum nature of it, are impossible to make. Therefore, when referring to this resource, keep in mind that, while these are pretty sound suggestions, the degree of application of any particular suggestion must be tailored to each child individually.
In this list, the first Do corresponds with the first Don’t, the second Do with the second Don’t, etc. The downloadable PDF pairs them in columns.
I hope you find this useful.
- refer to general resources that support your math planning for students with ASD.
- get to know your student’s interests, because those will be the entry points to the math.
- make the math stimulating, fun, and interesting.
- use the same kind of differentiated methods of instruction as with other students.
- use visual aids and concrete materials to make the abstract real and accessible.
- break learning up into manageable parts.
- help the student to generalize math concepts and procedures.
- incorporate rote learning into your program: Many children with ASD are strong in this kind of learning.
- assessments that allow the student to be most successful in sharing thinking, playing to strengths.
- use precise praise for effort and success.
- assume the resource is definitive, e.g. most recommend visual aids, but some students with ASD are stronger auditory and/or kinaesthetic learners.
- be afraid to broaden the student’s horizons by introducing new things.
- over-stimulate, distract, or agitate the student: know the triggers and warning signs that tell you if things are about to take a turn.
- forget the communication skills such as vocabulary, and being able to explain the math, be it with pictures, numbers, or words.
- forget the hierarchy of visual aids: from most effective to least are real objects or situations, facsimiles or models, colour photographs, colour pictures, black and white pictures, line drawings, graphic symbols and written language.
- do the lesson without relating it to the other small parts and the whole.
- let manipulatives take on one fixed meaning or purpose: They are variable models that can represent many ideas.
- limit your lessons to rote learning: It’s important that this knowledge be connected to, and is in service of understanding the big ideas and concepts of math.
- forget to take the student’s weaknesses into account: be sure to consider stamina, mood, and external factors to decide when, how, and how much you assess at any one time.
- be stingy with the non math-based positive reinforcement that will foster a positive attitude and ideal brain state.