Although sharing autism awareness should be a year long endeavor, I love having April as that extra reminder and prompt (see we need prompts too!) to really go hard on my push to help teach my school about autism. Education is key with any type of awareness. The less we know about something, the easier it is to have misconceptions, get the wrong impression, and be uneasy and uncomfortable about it. When we teach the other students and teachers at our schools about autism, everyone will feel more confident about engaging our students and making them a meaningful part of the school community. I encourage questions. I encourage discussion. Let other students ask the awkward questions. If you don’t answer them – they might mistakenly assume the wrong answer.
Classroom Autism Lessons
One of my favorite ways to share autism awareness is classroom autism discussions. It’s time consuming and yes you may have to give up your preps or lunch breaks to squeeze these in but they are SO worth it. Getting the chance to have the individualized communication with each classroom, answer questions, and directly teach is absolutely invaluable. There is an immediate change in the school culture following these lessons. If your school isn’t open to this, you can always pass out the handouts and share lesson recommendations with the classroom teacher. But there is something more impactful about the special ed teacher being the one to run the lesson. Students listen to their regular teacher all day – having someone new come in to talk to them makes it more important and meaningful.
With our younger students, we want to share basic information. Our basic message is the basic message that flows throughout all of those grades related to social skill building – Let’s all be friends. We want the students to know that our students can be their friend. They can play. They like toys. They are fun.
Story books are great tools for these grades. My favorites are:
Reading a book is a great way to start a class lesson. It opens up the topic in a nice way. I also like providing a simple and visual handout. Visuals are great for early childhood classrooms. This is the page I share from my Autism Awareness Unit.
If I’m doing a lesson in 1st or 2nd grade, I’ll have students read the facts. Then we discuss each one. Let kids ask questions. Let kids make connections with their own lives. I love when a little second grader will announce triumphantly, “I learn differently too. We are all different!”
With our older students, we can get a little more advanced with our lesson and discussion. I like to start with a pre-test that the teachers pass out a few days before my lesson. This gives me an idea of “what I’m dealing with” and I know what questions to prep for.
I usually start the discussion by clearing up any misconceptions I read on the pre-tests. Get that nasty business out of the way. Then we use a worksheet to structure our discussion. We read the fact and then discuss it and apply it to what we see with the students in our school. Giving this connections really helps students apply this knowledge to the individuals with autism they see on a daily basis. Get this worksheet here.
With this age level and the older groups as well – I like to provide a lot of prompts so they can empathize and understand the obstacles our students face. Examples such as – “What would you do if you really, really had to go to the bathroom but couldn’t talk?” ” What if it sounded like your teacher was speaking Chinese?” “What if the buzz of the lights sounded like a fire alarm and you had to take a test during it?” This gets kids thinking and connecting. It’s all about making that connection!
Our older kids may already have some good knowledge about autism. But you don’t want to overly assume. It’s still a good idea to start the lesson with a quick review of the facts. I like this worksheet for my older classrooms:
Really push kids to open up during the discussion. We all know this is the”too cool for school” age so nobody may volunteer any questions or topics to discuss. Bring up the elephant in the room. Say, “hey did you guys see my chasing that student through the hallway last week? Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about how you felt and you can deal with those situations and how that student was just having a really bad day. We all have bad days.” Again – we are going getting kids to make a connection.
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I like to read a book like Giraffes Can’t Dance. This is my springboard to talk about how we all have different abilities, or skills. I then share three ways the students can be friends like modeling saying “hi” and waiting for high five, or a verbal response; playing next to, or with a student at recess; or asking to be a buddy in gym class, or class game.
I give some modeling practice for the scenarios. Then, I ask for questions, or other ways they
have been a friend. This is for Primary K-3. Intermediate grades generate more examples and ideas.
Great suggestions! One of my fav books 🙂
This is an excellent resource. Thanks for putting it out there! We need people like you to help other children understand autism in our schools for the benefit of all children!
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Aww thank you Lisa! 🙂
good and vibrant books