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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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Autism in the Classroom

WebMD talks to parents, therapists, and educators for advice on how to help children with autism thrive in the classroom.

Autism in the classroom: Tips from a parent

Atlanta resident Leslie Wolfe and her husband, Alan, struggle with whether to tell people their son Joshua has autism. The bright 7-year-old did so well in his public school's first-grade class that many of his classmates’ parents didn’t know Joshua needed extra help.

Wolfe says one reason Joshua is thriving in public school is that the family got started early to help him get ready.

Joshua attended Emory University’s Walden School. Walden School is a preschool for children with autism. Each classroom has up to 18 children. There are two “typical” children in the classroom for every one child with autism. The idea is to help the children with autism learn from the behavior of their classmates. Another aim of the Walden School is to help families learn how to deal with autism spectrum disorders.

Wolfe offers these other tips for helping your child with an ASD do well at school.

  • Know your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Wolfe says it’s important to get a “really good assessment of your child.” She recommends the ADOS. ADOS stands for Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule. It’s a standard evaluation used to assess social and communication behavior in autism. You can ask your child’s doctor or contact an autism center at a university to find someone trained to conduct it. Results can help guide your child’s individualized education plan or IEP.
  • Practice makes perfect. Wolfe says it takes her son “50 repetitions to learn to use the pronouns ‘he’ or ‘she’ correctly.” So it’s unreasonable to think he would be able to just “walk into the classroom and skip along.”

She suggests showing up a week before school starts. Practice walking to school. Once there, show your child his new classroom. Also show your child with autism how to get to the water fountains and the bathrooms.

  • Give teachers and coaches easy instructions. Wolfe tells WebMD that if Josh is third in line during soccer practice, he won't necessarily remember the instructions his coach gives him. But if his coach says his name and takes a minute to repeat the instructions, he'll understand the task. This technique works well for any kid, she adds.
  • Get involved with your school. Wolfe advises joining the PTA or volunteering at school events. That way it will be easier to keep up on what’s happening at the school. And your child’s teachers will get to know you.
  • Share your knowledge. Wolfe recommends giving manuals or articles that focus on children with autism to teachers. Then ask the teachers to share the materials with therapists, the PE teacher, and anyone else who works with your child.

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