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Running head: TEACHING AUTSTIC STUDENTS

Secondary Education Teacher, Educating Autistic Students


Heather Freytag
University of Maine Augusta

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Abstract
With the rise of students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), this paper looks to
what secondary educators need to know. Popular research to adapt instruction includes applied
behavior analysis (ABA), Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication Handicapped
Children (TEACCH), using visuals, and varying assessments. Research suggests minimizing
distractions, adapting stimuli, providing a safe space, and using a prevent-teach-reinforce method
to manage classroom behavior. To support social acceptance, research suggests understanding
that ASD students social function is impaired. Research also suggests developing a talent,
understanding eye contact is difficult, and using increased sustained peer-delivered interactions
helps achieve social acceptance. To create a learning environment for ASD students, an educator
needs a well-organized, well-structured classroom. Also reducing stimuli, using motivating
instruction, and creating a safe space contributes to the learning environment. The research for
assisted technology points to the use of electronics such as, keyboards and apple iDevices, with
applications, to increase communication and learning. Many studies were conducted to provide
educational benefits to students with autism spectrum disorder for secondary educators.

Secondary Education Teacher, Educating Autistic Students

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Autism is a developmental disability that significantly affects an individuals verbal and


nonverbal communication as well as social interaction (Ryan, Hughes, Katsiyannis, McDaniel,
and Sprinkle, 2011, p. 94). Ryan, et al. (2014) also point out that autism spectrum disorder
(ASD) is a fast growing disability in the United States, with 1 in 150 children being diagnosed
(p.94). Having a student with some form of ASD is highly probable for educators. Many studies
have been done in order to help educators understand, and better educate this growing
population. Ryan, et al. (2014) point out several characteristics associated with autism that
include: repetitive movements, poor eye contact, difficulty understanding social situations,
difficulty with changes in routine, and sensitive sensory issues. All of these provide a unique
experience and unique difficulties in educating this population of students. A secondary teacher
must adapt instruction, manage classroom behavior, support social acceptance, create a learning
environment, and implement assisted technology for students diagnosed with autistic spectrum
disorder.
It is necessary for teachers to adapt instruction when students have difficulty learning and
acquiring new skills, like those with ASD. There are several proven methods that are popular
among educators. One thing to consider are IEPs, or individualized education programs (Ryan et
al., 2014). IEPs are mandated by federal law. Also, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001
requires that evidence-based methodologies be utilized in IEPs (Ryan et al., 2014).
Applied behavior analysis, or ABA, is a popular method used for adapting instruction.
ABA is an intervention that focuses on managing a childs learning opportunities by teaching
specific, manageable tasks until mastery in a continued effort to build upon the mastered skills
(Ryan et al., 2014, p. 97). Lovaas is the psychologist behind the supporting study (Ryan et al.,
2014). Ryan et al. (2014) explain their study saying a specific task is taught until the student has

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mastered the task. Temple Grandin (2008), in her book The Way I See It, states that ABA training
has the best scientific documentation but to remember other programs are also effective (p. 3).
She (2008) talks about teaching students directly saying They need to be specifically taught
things that others seem to learn by osmosis; supporting the ABA method (p. 19).
Temple Grandin (2008) also discusses another popular method: teaching with visuals.
She points out that ASD children may categorize things visually, are detailed, and specific
(2008). In order to promote generalizations with new concepts we must connect them visually.
Saunders, Page, & Wood (2011) point out that if instruction is given too quickly ASD students
cannot keep up and become overwhelmed (p. 21). Several studies revealed how educators can
use visual aids to help ASD students. Saunders et al. (2011) state that written instructions with
added pictures and drawings can clarify meaning. TEACHH, or treatment and education of
autistic and related communication handicapped children, is a popular method that supports task
completion by providing explicit instruction and visual supports in a purposefully structured
environment (Ryan et al., p. 98). TEACHH requires the environment be set up to meet the
needs of the individual and the task needed. This technique would work well with lab
experiments, where the material and directions can be specified ahead of time. Another study
proved that Venn diagrams worked well. These types of diagrams show compare and contrast
models in order to help graphically organize information. Carnahan and Williamson (2013)
found that middle school students developed access to information above their reading levels
using this compare contrast diagram model (p.360). Venn diagrams would work well in many
classroom settings.
A last study for adapting instruction shows the importance of varying assessments. Paula
Kluth (2004) found that testing can be a very confusing and stressful experience when

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appropriate adaptations are not offered (p. 46). She believes that using authentic assessment
strategies including portfolios, exhibitions, presentations, labs, journals, essays, debates,
anecdotal reports, teacher observation, puzzles and games, interviews, focus groups, daily work
samples, and questionnaires, provide less obstacles for students (Kluth, 2004, p. 46). These
assessments are ideal for all students if utilized in a daily curriculum. It also enables the teacher
to utilize topics that interest the student. Temple Grandin (2008) points out in her book, the best
teachers have flexibility in approach and style that helps the child to learn (p. 80). It is necessary
to adapt instruction and be flexible when teaching students with ASD.
It is important to manage classroom behavior for all students, but can be challenging for
students with autistic spectrum disorder. To manage students with ASD in a classroom the first
hurtle is a classroom routine. Saunders et al. (2011) state that ASD students cannot organize
themselves and do not know what to do with unstructured time. Providing a detailed schedule of
events, or plan of the day, will help keep students on task, and productive (Saunders et al, 2011).
Another way to manage behavior is to minimize distractions. Saunders et al. (2011), provide
examples: allow students only what they need at their workspace, and seat students at the end of
the row. Another consideration is stimuli within the classroom. Many ASD students are
oversensitive to different stimuli. It may be necessary to change the classroom to make it more
bearable for example, bright lights, unusual smells, loud noises, constant noises, and temperature
(Saunders et al., 2011).
Another study addresses behavior problems by a prevent-teach-reinforce method (Strain,
Wilson and Dunlap, 2011). This study evaluated students in kindergarten through eighth grade
(Strain et al, 2011). Prevent-teach-reinforce involves: a team assessment, identifying goals for
the student to achieve, a behavioral assessment, intervention with a behavior plan, and then

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evaluating if the plan was effective (Strain et al, 2011). Strain et al. (2011) give an example; a
student was given a card with four expectations listed, was expected to self-manage, and required
less teacher reminding throughout the process. This directly taught a student the type of
behavior expected at school. Temple Grandin (2008) states repeatedly in her book the
importance of teaching a student expectations and providing consequences (good and bad) for
fulfilling those expectations. She also points out checking for and eliminating sensory issues
before moving on to consequences (2008). Grandin (2008) points out the sensory issues are
variable for ASD students, and that recurring behavior problems often are rooted to a sensory
issue. Remove this issue and the bad behavior will often stop. Kluth (2004) provides an idea to
offer a safe space for ASD students who need a break. She states it need not be more than a quiet
spot in the room or a specific chair in the library, so long as it isnt used as punishment (2004).
Many recommendations provided for managing classroom behavior can be utilized easily in a
classroom setting, benefiting not only students with ASD but all students in the classroom.
It is important to support social acceptance of students diagnosed with autistic spectrum
disorder in the classroom. ASD students are unable to understand others feelings or points of
view (Saunders et al., 2011, p. 21). Saunders et al. (2011) give several reasons that social
functioning is impaired they are: students with ASD act younger than their peers; they dont
understand body language; they interpret words literally; they lack the ability to empathize; they
have difficulty understanding metaphors, figurative language, and analogies (p. 21). These
impairments can make it difficult for ASD students to connect to classmates socially. Temple
Grandin (2008) suggests developing a talent. She tells a story about her science teacher directing
her interest in science to help understand cattle chutes (2008). Grandin (2008) goes on to discuss
how becoming involved in special interests will connect ASD students with like-minded

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individuals, where they will be more accepted, and social interactions can be developed. Grandin
(2008) also points out that ASD students may have trouble with eye contact. To help them
communicate more effectively, slow down speech and dont expect eye contact (Grandin, 2008).
This can make people uncomfortable when talking socially with ASD students especially if they
are unfamiliar with these issues. To help ASD students and their peers interact socially and in a
more comfortable way, Hughes, Harvey, Cosgriff, Reilly, Heilingoetter, Brigham, Kaplan, and
Bernstein (2013) devised a study to increase sustained, peer-directed social interactions. This
study taught partners at school to help students that were having difficulty talking to others,
specifically ASD students (Hughes et al., 2013). Hughes et al. (2013) then laid out rules and
expectations and allowed the partners to interact with the ASD students. The study found that
there were positive outcomes for both the general education students and those with ASD
(Hughes et al., 2013). This could be incorporated easily using group work during class. The topic
being taught would give students something to speak about, increasing social interactions. Social
acceptance for students with ASD is possible with a few non-invasive steps, developing an
interest and/or having classmates interact on a daily basis.
Creating a learning environment for all students is part of a teachers responsibility. In the
textbook, Teaching Students with Special Needs in General Education Classrooms, the authors
discuss several ways to manage a classroom effectively: arranging the physical environment,
organizing the instructional environment, and managing time and resources (Lewis & Doorlag,
2011). Tailoring the learning environment for children diagnosed with ASD does not take a lot
of effort. Saunders et al. (2011) discusses several strategies to help create a learning
environment. They discuss having a well-organized class (2011). To achieve organization the
room should be set up with safety in mind. The workspace should include only what the students

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will need for class, to minimize distractions and promote safety (Saunders et al., 2011). Having
an organized class also allows for proper time management. ASD students have proven to do
better when a daily schedule is provided (Saunders et al., 2011). A structured schedule will keep
all students on task by decreasing students transition. They will know what is expected at all
times of the class period. The textbook also addresses the physical environments, i.e. stimuli
(Lewis et al., 2011). ASD students can have sensitivity to lighting, noise, and smells. Creating
an environment where ASD students can learn includes reducing these stimuli in the room setup.
Kluth (2004) discusses these stimuli and adds the need for a safe space. A place for students to
go in order to desensitize if necessary, can be easily incorporated in a well thought out classroom
arrangement. Kluth (2004) also discusses the need to add stimuli. She points out students could
use headphones to remove stimuli, and also to add soft playing music (Kluth, 2004). Temple
Grandin (2008) discusses instruction in her book. She says that bringing in interests of the
students, will motivate the students to learn something they are struggling with (2008). Grandin
says (2008), [students on the spectrum] need to see concrete examples of really cool things to
keep them motivated to learn (p. 42). Experiments with detailed directions are a great way to
provide this type of instruction for ASD students. Also having students work in a mixed ability
group during class allows for practice of new ideas and adds a social aspect. Lastly, it is
important to be flexible and use a variety of assessments (Kluth, 2008). No one thing is going to
work with all students. This is especially true with ASD students. It is important to create a
learning environment for all students; ASD students may need a little extra thought in the
classroom dynamics.
Assistive technology (AT) can be beneficial for autistic spectrum disorders helping them
to communicate and understand more effectively. ASD is a wide range of conditions. Some

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students will be high functioning while others will not. AT can help students achieve a level of
success in areas that they struggle with. An example is the book, APPS for Autism. In it the
author, Lois Brady, catalogs applications for Apple iDevices. There are applications, or apps,
for communication, to increase vocabulary, to develop social skills, and general education
platforms (Brady, 2011). These applications can be extremely helpful as a tool for educators and
students, especially for those students that are nonverbal. Many people can forget that there is a
hearing, thinking person inside that can learn. Another example is the keyboard. Grandin (2008)
discusses the use of keyboards for students that have visual processing challenges (p.98). ASD
students with verbal communication issues are still able to communicate with the use of
keyboard and computer technology. A great example of this is the YouTube video, In My
Language, by Amelia Baggs. She is a nonverbal autistic woman that has been dismissed by
society, in her words (Baggs, 2007). With the use of her keyboard, she becomes an articulate and
educated woman. Without the keyboard she is nonverbal and has stereotypical autistic
tendencies. The use of technology has allowed her to become an advocate for people diagnosed
with ASD. Electronic technology has allowed AT to provide ASD students with a voice, and
tools to aid in the classroom. AT allows education and information to be available to ASD
students that twenty years ago was denied.
Planning and teaching a class that includes students on the autistic spectrum disorder
necessitates a bit of thought. The adaptations that may be necessary will benefit all students in
the classroom. With the rise of ASD diagnosis, the probability of a teacher having a student with
it in their class increases every year. It is important to take note of the ideas mentioned.

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References
Baggs, A. [silentmiaow]. (2007, January 14). In my language. [YouTube]. Retrieved from
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnylM1hI2jc

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Brady, L. (2011). APPS for autism: An essential guide to over 200 effective apps for improving
communication, behavior, social skills, and more! Arlington, TX: Future Horizons, Inc.
Carnahan, C. & Williamson, P. (2013). Does compare-contrast text structure help students with
autism spectrum disorder comprehend science text?. Exceptional Children, 79(3), 347363.
Grandin, T. (2008). The way I see it: A personal look at autism & Aspergers. Arlington, TX:
Future Horizon Inc.
Hughes, C., Harvey, M., Cosgriff, J., Reilly, C., Heilingoetter, J., Brigham, N., Kaplan, L., &
Bernstein, R. (2013). A peer-delivered social interaction intervention for high school
students with autism. Research & Practice for Persons With Severe Disabilities, 38(1), 116.
Kluth, P. (2004). Autism, autobiography and adaptations. Teaching Exceptional Children, 36(4),
42-47.
Lewis, R., & Doorlag, D. (2011). Teaching students with special needs in general education
classrooms (8th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.
Ryan, J. B., Hughes, E., Katsiyannis, A., McDaniel, M., & Sprinkle, C. (2014). Research-based
educational practices for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Teaching
Exceptional Children, 47(2), 94-102.
Saunders, G., Page, H., & Wood, G. (2011). Great science for autistic students. Science Scope,
35(3), 20-23.
Strain, P., Wilson, K., & Dunlap, G. (2011). Prevent-Teach-Reinforce: Addressing problem
behaviors of students with autism in general education classrooms. Behavioral
Disorders, 36(3), 160-171.

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