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EDF1029 | Bonnie Lilford 25970127

EDF1029: Learners with special needs in the primary classroom.


AT1: Research Essay
By Bonnie Lilford 25970127
Word Count: 1665, excluding end reference list.

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EDF1029 | Bonnie Lilford 25970127

Improving the learning environment for children with


autism spectrum disorder in the primary classroom.
In recent times, there has been an increasing number of issues that have been associated with
improving the learning environment for children with autism in the primary classroom. The
purpose of this paper is to explore and analyse how a child with autism learns within the
classroom environment. Literature on this subject will be researched and reviewed for
strategies to be implemented in the primary classroom to improve their learning environment
and help resolve some of these issues.
Autism spectrum disorder, also known as ASD, can be defined as a developmental
condition that affects an individual in two main areas, (Autism Victoria [AMAZE], 2011).
These areas include an individual who has impaired communication and social interaction
and an individual who has restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities,
(AMAZE, 2011). Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects an individuals ability to
communicate with others, they are often sensitive to the five senses which are hearing,
smelling, touching, tasting and seeing, and can be very disorientated within their world,
(AMAZE, 2011). It is important to understand that no two individuals with autism spectrum
disorder are the same, (Sutherland, 2014, pp.306) and can affect individuals to varying
degrees. Some people with autism can be verbal, whilst others can be completely nonverbal, (Grimm Poe, 2005, pp. 249).
A child with autism spectrum disorder often has trouble communicating and, socialising with
peers, friends and family members. This is due to problems associated with their language
development. Many students with ASD often develop speech which has fluctuations in voice
pitch, such as loudness or speaking unusually slow or fast. They may also have vocabulary
problems which may cause pronoun reversal such as using you instead of I, (Sutherland,
2014, pp.308).These problems with speech and vocabulary can create issues in the classroom,
when communicating with teachers and classmates. This means teachers will need to
implement different strategies to enable and emphasise communication for students with
autism in the primary classroom. This can, in turn, potentially improve their communication
skills and language skills such as writing, talking and reading. It has been found that some
children can feel isolated and bullied by their peers. This is due to the lack of eye contact
some children with autism display.
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EDF1029 | Bonnie Lilford 25970127


Students with autism in the primary classroom have a variety of learning difficulties. These
learning difficulties need to be attended to early in order for the student to learn adequately
and develop skills that can be utilised in their daily life. Learning issues that are associated
with children with autism include memory, decision making and emotional reactions. These
emotional reactions can impact the childs ability to cope with the classroom environment.
They would also struggle to complete a task that would be relatively easy for others to
complete. These emotional reactions can be triggered by everyday environmental stimuli
such as noises and tactile textures. Slight noises such as buzzing can emotionally impact the
student as they appear to be overly sensitive to sound, (Rogers, 2010, pp. 170) and this can
contribute to the student feeling overwhelmed. Many students who feel overwhelmed by such
sensitive sounds tend to display repetitive behaviours such as head rolling and body rocking
or swaying. Learning difficulties for students with autism, do not just include emotional
reactions. Many students will have problems with their fine motor skills, and this can impact
the childs learning as their ability to write, use scissors and draw is deeply affected. The fine
motor skills which can be affected by the autism spectrum disorder are the extremities such as
wiggling and flicking the finger, flexing and extending the fingers and alternating pronation
and supination of the forearm, (Rogers, 2010, pp.170). Children struggle with using scissors
to cut as their motor skills are under developed so they find it difficult to cut objects out. A
child with ASD is also credited with having very little attention span which can cause
disruptive behaviour when in the classroom and also affects their learning as they are not
concentrating on what they are being taught.
Whilst on placement, I observed a student with ASD who possessed some of these learning
difficulties. This student was very distracted and would often get up from his chair, and walk
around and interrupt his classmates. This would distract many of his classmates and disrupt
them and then they would not do their schoolwork, as they were too interested in what the
student was doing. As well as being a distraction to the class, the student also struggled with
his handwriting. The students work was quite difficult to read as his handwriting was
severely poor for his age. My mentor teacher was quite worried about the student as he
seemed to be falling behind in his schoolwork and his motor skills were not improving. The
student also had very poor attention and struggled to retain any information that was given to
him. This made it hard for him to concentrate when the teacher was talking to him. Using
scissors to cut was a challenge for him as well as colouring in the lines.

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EDF1029 | Bonnie Lilford 25970127


In order for me to obtain knowledge and literature about how students with autism learn in
the primary classroom, I used a range of different search strategies. These methods included
googling for information about organisations which support and assist people with autism, I
also used a variety of articles through the use of the library search system, where I gained
knowledge and information that highlighted the methods that can be used to help educate
children with autism. I was then able to analyse this information and find strategies that I
believe would aid and improve the learning of students with autism. When searching I used
key words such as learning development of children with autism, and what is autism.
In my literature review and analysis, I found that to improve the learning for children with
autism spectrum disorder the classroom environment needs to be arranged to suit the needs of
the student. To be able to address the students needs, this means creating an environment
which supports the identified learning needs, of the students, (Heflin and Alberto, 2001,
pp.94). By creating an environment which supports the children with autism, allows the
teachers to prevent the distractions that the students may face. The research also suggested
that students with autism will learn better if teachers take into account the sensory
differences, (Heflin & Alberto, 2001, pp.94) such as noise and other overwhelming
distractions. This can help the students feel comfortable and calm in the classroom
environment. Munk and Repp (1994) suggested that planning the day with a number of
different exercises will significantly decrease the amount of disruptive behaviour in the
classroom, (Heflin & Alberto, 2001, pp.94). It has been found that visual stimuli is effective
for students with autism as it can provide them with directions and a way of supporting
and eliciting communication, (Heflin & Alberto, 2001, pp.95).
The literature also stated that students with autism had less legible handwriting compared
to those without autism, (Zager, Wehmeyer and Simpson, 2012, pp.191). However the
literature also found that through the use of orthographic training with motor training,
(Zager et al., 2012, pp.191) this will greatly increase students handwriting skills.
Based on these findings, I outlined the following strategies to support this student in the
primary classroom. In order for me to improve the learning of this student with autism
spectrum disorder in the primary classroom, I decided that I would need to create an
environment that supported the unique learning characteristics, of students, (Heflin &
Alberto, 2001, pp. 94). I would implement the strategy of providing resources to this student
with autism spectrum disorder in the primary classroom. By providing him with resources
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EDF1029 | Bonnie Lilford 25970127


such as pens with grips or pens that were different sizes so that he could find the pen which
suited him best. This would improve his handwriting as it means that he could comfortably
write. The student would require reminding to hold pens, pencils and scissors correctly, and
using safe scissors that are used for younger children, until they get used to using them. I
would also set up a visual timetable system so the child had visual pictures of what activities
would be planned for the day so the he knew what was happening and did not feel
overwhelmed. For example, having a picture of food for the times recess or lunch would
occur, so the student knew when it was time to eat. Another strategy I would implement
would be a diary using visual pictures once again. The diary would help the student with his
handwriting as well, and with visual pictures, the student can look at what he has to write
about. For example, having a picture of the beach, means the student can visualise the sand,
water and waves, and then write about each of these things, what they are doing and the
sounds they may make. This would also improve his handwriting and allow him to use his
imagination. I would also like to create an inclusive classroom environment where there is
peer acceptance, friendships and participation in group activities, (Conway, 2014, pp.245).
By creating this inclusive environment I hope to reduce bullying and social isolation in not
only students with autism in the primary classroom but all students. Bringing a special pillow
in for him to sit on, would allow him to feel like he did not have to get up all the time and
distract others.
Despite the increase in the issues that are associated with improving the learning of students
with autism spectrum disorder in the primary classroom, implementing strategies can greatly
improve this. Research has found a variety of ways which support students with autism who
have learning difficulties. Whether this is bringing resources into the classroom to improve
the handwriting of the student or to calm the student if they have problems with sensory
sensitivities.

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EDF1029 | Bonnie Lilford 25970127


References:
AMAZE. (2011). Autism Victoria. AMAZE: http://www.amaze.org.au/discover/about-autismspectrum-disorder/what-is-an-autism-spectrum-disorder/
Conway, R. (2014). Encouraging positive interactions. In P. Foreman & M. Arthur-Kelly
(Eds.), Inclusion in action (pp. 234-282). South Melbourne, Vic: Cengage Learning.
Grimm Poe, S. (2005). Family and Disablement Issues Throughout Childhood. In A. Cronin
& M. Mandich, Human Development & Performance Throughout the Lifespan (pp.
246-262). Clifton Park, NY: Thomas Delmar Learning.
Heflin, J. L., & Alberto, P. A. (2001). Establishing a Behavioural Context for Learning for
Students with Autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 16(2),
93-101. Retrieved from:
http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.lib.monash.edu.au/docview/205054825/fulltextPD
F?accountid=12528
Rogers, S. L. (2010). Common Conditions That Influence Childrens Participation. In J.
Case-Smith & J. OBrien, Occupational Therapy for Children (pp. 146-192).
Maryland Heights, Missouri: Mosby.
Sutherland, D. (2014). Developing communication skills. In P. Foreman & M. Arthur-Kelly
(Eds.), Inclusion in action (pp.284-324). South Melbourne, Vic: Cengage Learning.
Zager, D., Wehmeyer, M. L., & Simpson, R. L. (2012). Educating students with autism
spectrum disorders research-based principles and practices (1st edition). Retrieved
from:
http://www.monash.eblib.com.au.ezproxy.lib.monash.edu.au/patron/FullRecord.aspx?
p=728252

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