A solid education is theoretically the foundation for every child’s success, but kids with autism tend to struggle in a traditional classroom setting. For example, some kids have a hard time sitting still, while others become overwhelmed and anxious from too much sensory input. It’s also difficult when expected routines change and everyone is expected to socialize.
There are numerous reasons why kids with autism have a difficult time in the classroom, and some of these challenges are unavoidable. However, there are ways to help them get an education while minimizing their struggle.
- Consider homeschooling
If homeschooling your child is an option, this will probably be the ideal option because you’ll have more control over your child’s environment. A traditional school setting is full of chaos and noise that triggers anxiety, like class bells, large crowds, screaming kids, and even fire alarms. Compared to school, your home will be a calm, safe space for your child.
Another benefit to homeschooling is not having to work around a standard class schedule to take your child to therapy sessions. You’re free to create your own schedule. Even better, if your child is receiving ABA therapy, you can switch to in-home sessions for convenience. By integrating therapy into their daily routine without making them leave the house, they’ll feel more comfortable and less anxious.
Educating your child at home will also eliminate the shock of constantly changing rules and expectations. For instance, one year, they might have a teacher who encourages them to speak without raising their hand. The next year, this might be strictly forbidden. Most kids will adapt to these small changes, but kids with autism will struggle.
- Create a system for task switching
Kids with autism struggle with executive functioning, which means they have a hard time planning and executing projects that require accounting for time, specifications, and conditionals. The result is difficulty completing homework assignments like book reports and essays, school projects, preparing for tests, and anything else that is beyond a simple one-time task.
If your child has a month to complete a book report, for example, they won’t know how to plan their time to work on it incrementally and will likely wait until the last minute to start. You can support your child by creating a system for tasks that tells them what to do so they don’t have to think about it. For instance, when they have a book report, schedule time each day for them to work on their report and check in with them to make sure they’re on track.
Hopefully, there isn’t too much homework, but even for small amounts, create a daily schedule using time blocking and alarms to indicate when it’s time to move to the next task. If your child doesn’t like the sound of a real alarm, use a pleasant ringtone on your phone instead.
- Educate their teachers
Never expect your child’s teachers to understand autism. It’s not part of their training by default, and unless your child is in a special class for autistic kids, the chances are slim.
Take the time to connect with your child’s teacher to help them understand your child’s needs and behaviors so they don’t misinterpret things like stimming and other unfamiliar behaviors.
Make sure your child’s teacher knows their limitations and gives them space to be themselves. Teachers tend to expect everyone to progress at a similar rate, and they often push kids to be better. This works for some kids, but not usually a child with autism. If your kid has a specialized interest, for example, they may want to write every paper on that topic. Help their teacher understand that allowing them to do this will support their success.
- Consider an autism-only school
Your child might do well in a school designed for kids with autism. Most of the time, these schools aren’t ideal for high-functioning children, but if your child needs a lot of support, it’s worth looking into. They’ll get a specialized education tailored to their needs and you won’t have to worry about many of the unknowns that come with traditional educational institutions.
There are some downsides to enrolling a child in an autism-specific school, so it’s best to do your research beforehand.
Speak to the school counselor
While there are many things you can do to help your child get a better education, also speak with the school counselor. They’ll let you know about resources available to help your child get the best education possible.