When it comes to working with special needs children, such as those with an autism-spectrum disorder (ASD), it's a good idea to acquire a special toolbox of strategies in addition to your autism certification. These efforts will help your students thrive and feel comfortable in the classroom setting. Kids with autism may quickly become over-stimulated and they may have difficulty coping in new situations or environments. In these contexts, try some of the following techniques to ease their stress and restore calm to your classroom.
Stick to a Routine
Perhaps the best way to keep a child calm with autism is to limit their frustrations in the first place! One way to do this is by following a set structure with day-to-day class activities, even going so far as to post a clearly labeled “schedule” in plain sight. When novel or out-of-the-box activities occur, try to give the class advanced notice and instruction. You may even throw in some reminders as time draws close: “There will be an assembly before lunch…Okay class, we're going to put our things away to prepare for the assembly.” This way, the child doesn't become upset by a sudden change in routine.
Practice Deep Breathing
Flapping of arms, having trouble sitting still, or raising their voices can signal distress in a student with autism. If you notice these signs, have the child take several deep, calming breaths. You might even minimize anxiety by working deep breathing into the classroom routine, such as doing it with the whole class before transitioning from one activity to another.
Soothe with the Senses
Certain sensory tools can help relieve stress in a child with autism, so find out what works best for your students and keep these tools within reach. For example, they may feel soothed by squeezing a squishy ball of clay or fidgeting with a toy or other trinket. Others may enjoy rocking back and forth or bouncing. Substitute large balls for chairs and the child may naturally be able to calm themselves by gently bouncing during class.
Provide an Escape from Sensory Overload
Classroom bodies can become too much at times for the student with autism. Set up an area for them to escape for quiet, such as a back corner of the classroom. Stock ear plugs, headphones, or weighted blankets for them to grab a moment of quiet.
Try out a few of these strategies to help your students with autism stay calm in the classroom. However, keep in mind that every child—with or without ASD is unique in their own way. Adjust your techniques as needed to best suit the individual needs of your students.