A is for Autism: Strategies for Success

Guest post by LaChan V Hannon:

If most educators are anything like me, we experience a range of emotions on any given day. Sometimes, we are confident. Sometimes, we need the collaboration of our peers to make sure we are on track, and sometimes, our efficacy leaves much to be desired. And when we pause long enough to exit our own minds, we remember… our students. They are the reason why we fret. They are the reason why we learn. They are the reason why we grow. We want to make every student feel the way we do about learning. That simple thought is inspiring. It rejuvenates us, confirms our purpose, and drives our goals.

Each of our approaches to learning is different. Maybe you can remember the exact moment you realized a teacher was teaching just for you. Maybe you can remember the moment you realized your learning difference was no different at all. Or maybe you can remember a moment when all was right in the world because your teacher knew and understood something about you that others often misunderstood.

That moment of realization and understanding reshapes the experience our students on the autism spectrum have when they encounter a teacher that is flexible in his/her approach, strength-based in his/her perspective, student-centered in his/her practices, and supported by his/her team. Someone once told me, “when you meet one student with autism, you’ve met ONE student with autism.” Their complexities, idiosyncrasies, learning styles, and personalities are as varied as the myriad colors of human faces.

But how do I, as a regular education teacher, best support my the student with autism or Asperger’s—the one that tests too high for pull-out replacement, yet struggles with the inferential skills needed for text complexity and the nuances of language? The one whose parents insist he can be successful if the teacher would just… (fill in the blank)? The one whose disruptive behaviors require more attention than the school day allows?

Here’s how:
I must first remember that I am not alone in my classroom; my classroom is full of students; that all students have needs; that all their needs are different; that different needs represent diverse levels of understanding; that diverse levels of understanding require multiple strategies of instruction; and that mastering understanding demands various demonstrations of learning.

What learning—the process and the outcomes—looks like differs from one student to the next. And so might our expectations. I would argue that if a regular education teacher is able to meet the needs of a student with autism in his/her classroom, he/she is prepared to meet the needs of all the students in the regular ed classroom. From where I sit, both traditional and vocational institutions could benefit from learning about and from our awesome students on the autism spectrum.

LaChan Hannon (@LaChanHannon) and Rose Mary Pirozzi will come together on Friday, February 7 to present Strategies for Success: Supporting Teachers of Students with Autism in Inclusive Classrooms at Ignite ’14 in Dallas. For more information and to register, visit www.nasspconference.org.

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