Lesson Plans for a Child With Autism

by Julie Christensen

    Whether you are considering homeschooling full-time, or simply planning a few lesson plans for summer vacation, teaching a child who has autism can seem daunting. The best place to start is usually with your child's interests. Start small by planning two or three simple activities. Try them out on your child and see how it goes. Keep trying new things until you find a schedule and mode of planning that works for both of you.

    Your first step in planning appropriate lesson plans is determining your child's current level of academic progress. Set some reasonable goals in each area and then set out to plan activities to achieve those goals. For example, writing is difficult for most kids with autism. Plan at least one writing activity each day. The activity might center on your child's favorite interest, or you might use handwriting exercises, such as those offered by the Handwriting Without Tears programs. To teach reading, incorporate a lot of reading, based on your child's interests. Many children with autism prefer non-fiction to fiction. Read some fiction too, though, and act out the stories to boost your child's comprehension. Math instruction can be as simple as board games, hands-on manipulatives and flash cards, or a structured system.

    When working with a child with autism, it is not enough to focus on the three R's -- reading, writing and arithmetic. You must take a holistic approach and look at the whole child. Many children with autism have sensory integration problems. Lights, touch, noises and other environmental stimulus can affect their ability to learn. Build some sensory experiences into each day to help your child work through these issues, suggests Ellen Notbohm, co-author of "1001 Great Ideas for Teaching & Raising Children with Autism or Asperger's." Play with shaving cream, spin on a swing or work with clay or craft dough. These activities help your child feel grounded and can improve learning. Add fine and gross motor activities to your lesson plans to build these skills, which are often lacking. String beads, cut craft dough with scissors, jump on a trampoline or pop in a fitness for kids video.

    Many kids who have autism have a few intense interests or obsessions. Incorporating some of these interests into your lesson plans can spark increased interest and motivation. Unit studies are an ideal way to incorporate your child's interests into lesson plans. If your child is obsessed with spiders, plan a unit study around the subject. Gather books from the library, visit museums, and watch videos to expand his knowledge. Then, ask him to write reports, graph statistics or even make three-dimensional replicas of spiders. Many children love computers and technology. Find high-quality apps and websites to augment your learning.

    Most kids who have autism crave consistency and routine. A well-planned schedule is an essential part of any successful lesson plan, according to Michael D. Powers, co-author of "Asperger Syndrome & Your Child: A Parent's Guide." Plan academic subjects and challenging tasks early in the day. Once those tasks are done, reward your child for her efforts with her preferred activities, which might include art and tactile activities, computer time or time to pursue a favorite interest. Give each portion of your schedule a name and use it consistently so your child knows what is coming next. Many autistic children benefit from visual schedules. Draw pictures to show each portion of the day and show your child the pictures as you talk about the schedule.

    Working with your child who has autism can be incredibly rewarding, but also frustrating. Your child will probably have days when she is focused and enthusiastic about learning. At other times, sensory or behavioral issues can make learning almost impossible. Build flexibility into your lesson plans. If your child is having an "off-day," pull out more sensory activities, turn on some soothing music and set aside the academics until later. Although progress is important, your main priority must be creating a peaceful, happy learning environment while keeping your relationship and your sanity intact.

    References

    • Homeschooling the Child with Asperger Syndrome; Lise Pyles; 2004
    • 1001 Great Ideas for Teaching & Raising Children with Autism or Asperger's; Ellen Notbohm, et al.; 2010
    • Asperger Syndrome & Your Child; Michael D. Powers, et al.; 2002

    About the Author

    Julie Christensen's first experience with food was in a friend's family restaurant as a child. She worked as a cook in a small diner through college and has dabbled in catering for more than 20 years. She's the creator of MarmaladeMom.org, dedicated to family fun and delicious food, and released a book titled "More Than Pot Roast: 200 Fresh Slow Cooker Recipes."

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