This is our month!
April is Autism Awareness month, and the world celebrates those with autism on April 2nd. I’m a firm believer that autism awareness is a year round adventure. However, this month is a perfect time to get started advocating for your students and educating your school’s population about autism. A few months back I did a post on what to do if your class is excluded. First, let me say that it breaks my heart to hear so many stories of special education classes being excluded. This is wrong. Your students have a right to be included – it’s the law. Don’t fall silent and believe nothing can be done to change the way your students are treated. It’s our job as educators to help break the cycle of exclusion. This starts with education. One of the things I’ve found most successful and impactful is to educate the student population on autism and how to be a friend to students with autism. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in teaching our students social skills, we miss the opportunity to teach social skills to the general education population. This month is a great time to get started, so I’ve rounded up some resources and tips to help you on your journey to inclusion and understanding. Warning: This post is full of links. Be prepared to have a million tabs open on your browser!
Organization for Autism Research
OAR has a ton of FREE resources for teachers and students. The Teacher’s Corner is filled with great tip for teachers. I happen to love The 6 Steps to Success: ASD. This resource is outstanding for inclusion! Every educator could benefit from reading it. The student section has great resources as well. There are activity workbooks for grades K-8, with a quiz afterward for students to show off their gained knowledge. There are additional resources for high school students, too. Check out their Kit for Kids for more. My favorite resource is the video What’s Up With Nick. I use this in my lesson for 1st and 2nd graders. This short 3 minute video is a great, quick explanation of autism and what it can look like at school.
Sesame Street and Autism
For younger students, try checking out Sesame Street’s resources on Julia, their character with autism. I love the video Sesame Street and Autism: We’re Amazing 1, 2, 3! They also have a book about Julia, too! Buy the book here, or use the free digital book and read it aloud in the classroom. It’s also available for free on Epic! (If you aren’t using Epic!. in your classroom, you are seriously missing out!). Be sure to go over how to be a good friend, too! Sesame Street gives tips on how to be a good friend here. Ask your music teacher to share or teach The Amazing Song! You can find the lyrics here. Finally, Sesame Street gives great tips for adults on how to talk about autism. This is a great link to share with teachers or parents – remember, inclusion starts with you (thank you, Chrissy)! Share it with your administrators and ask for it to be included in newsletters or school-wide communication. Be one who educates your community!
Since We’re Friends: An Autism Picture Book
A great, quick read aloud for younger kiddos is Since We’re Friends: An Autism Picture Book, by Celeste Shally. I use the free version for educators on Epic! and read it aloud to students when presenting. I love that this book gives real world examples of how to be a friend and situations general education students may not know how to respond to.
Author Sara Leach
Sara Leach is a talented author with several books for 1st-3rd graders that star a girl named Lauren who has autism. These would make great read alouds or perfect for an independent reading choice for your students. I enjoyed both Slug Days and Penguin Days. You can find both for free on Epic! or click on the pictures for links to the hardback copies on Amazon.
Marvelous Max – Autism Awareness for Kids
I love this video for elementary aged students. Marvelous Max is a quick, 3 minute video to help promote understanding and inclusion. They offer a free book for teachers, too! Register for the free book here.I grabbed my copy last year and lend it out to general education teachers to use as a resource.
The National Autistic Society
The National Autistic Society has a ton of resources that are great for middle school and high school students. I’ve linked several of my favorites. The first two videos help those without autism experience what someone with autism might experience daily. They’ve even created a virtual reality experience with the help of adults with autism to help us understand what they experience daily (the last video). The third video, called “Amazing Things Happen”, by Alexander Amelines, strives to bring awareness and understanding and would be great for all ages. I highly suggest checking out their YouTube channel for more.
The Autism Helper’s Autism Awareness Unit
The Autism Helper’s Autism Awareness Unit has everything you need for a no prep presentation and ready-to-go interactive true/false sheets perfect to make an autism awareness bulletin board! I’m a huge fan of anything that can be adapted to all grade levels and this product does just that! My favorite part is the section on how to be a friend to someone with autism and discussion prompts.
Creating a Culture of Inclusion
Like I said before, not everything will go perfect on your journey to inclusion. Culture change takes time, so don’t be discouraged. My favorite way to promote inclusion and acceptance is to share a presentation with students and staff. However, sometimes that just isn’t possible. Here are some easy things to do to get started without directly presenting to staff and students:
- Share resources. There’s no way you can get to every classroom or staff member to share a lesson on autism, so share resources a few times a year to all of your school’s staff. Everyone can benefit here, so don’t leave anyone out. Include janitors, cafeteria staff, paraprofessionals, specialists, administrators, and office staff. Send out resources for staff and resources for students. The videos and links in this post are a great place to start!
- Welcome questions. I know this can be scary, but welcome questions about autism. Young students are naturally curious about differences. Treat these curiosities as learning opportunities.
- Model Social Skills for Teachers and Students. Don’t get so caught up teaching your students social skills that you forget to model appropriate interactions and social skills for general education students and staff. Many times people don’t know what to do or how to interact with your students, so model it for them. Both general education students and staff need this. I had a teacher once tell me she didn’t know how to greet my students – talk about a perfect opportunity to share! She was eager to learn and wanted to interact, she just wasn’t sure how to go about it. I modeled it for her and she jumped right in. Now she always greets my students each morning when they arrive.
- Make a Bulletin Board. Use the true/false boards from The Autism Helper’s Autism Awareness Unit to create interactive bulletin boards to educate students and staff.
- Create a Borrowing Library. Collect some great books about autism and other disabilities and invite teachers to use them in the classroom as read alouds. Ask your librarian to get involved and promote books about autism or have characters with autism. I’ve included several of my favorite read alouds below.
Rules by Cynthia Lord, is about a girl named Catherine. Her brother, David, has autism. I love that this book brings awareness for autism, AAC devices, and children who are wheelchair bound.
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt about a girl diagnosed with dyslexia. Not every disability is visible – this is a great reminder that some disabilities are unable to be seen.
My all-time favorite read aloud is Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. Melody, a girl with cerebral palsy, is brilliant but no one knows it until she gets an AAC and she’s able to communicate with her peers.
Bringing awareness and understanding is a part of our job. Your students are valuable members of the student population. Start advocating and educating now to create a culture change in your school and within your community. You might be uncomfortable sharing at first, but the more you do it the easier it will get. Embrace this month! Use it as an opportunity to share your knowledge and welcome questions. You can do it!
Share with me!
I’m always looking for great resources on autism. Do you have one you love? I’d love to see what you do to bring awareness to your school and community, too! Share your ideas and resources in the comment section. I can’t wait to learn from you all!