Autism is a neurodevelopment condition that lowers several mental capabilities of individuals. Children suffering from autism have reduced social interaction skills and become slow learners.
Numerous cases of autism are reported all over the world, but people living with autism have become integrated well into the society due to the scientific advancements in medicine. Children suffering from autism not only get drugs that help to ease their condition, but they also learn how to interact with other people.
It suffices to mention that children who have autism get opportunities for education, despite being slow learners (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010).
In some countries, they have special schools that have teachers who are skilled in teaching them. In other countries, the children are not separated from the other children in class.
In the past, teaching other children together with children suffering from autism was a problem because the children with autism were perceived to be aloof (Scruggs, 2008). However, teachers have taken the initiative to understand autism and draft new and better ways of teaching children with autism.
This paper will analyze how autism affects children and their social interactions from an academic point of view.
Behaviors of Children with Autism
It is crucial to understand the behavior of children with autism in the school set up in order to understand how autism affects children and their social interactions. Scruggs (2008) reveals that children with autism are usually perceived aloof because they do not interact with other children in the classroom.
In many instances, they are alone sitting in a corner and doing their own things. An interruption or any attempt by other children to indulge in play with the affected child usually ends up in a disaster. Mastropieri and Scruggs (2010) argue that children with autism have a hard time associating with other children due to two main reasons.
First, the children know that they are different from the rest. The difference is more pronounced in the older children compared to the younger ones.
The second reason children with autism do not interact with other children freely is the fact that their condition gives them limited social interaction skills.
Consequently, they do not feel comfortable being around other people. As Scruggs (2008) observes, many of the children with autism do not like to be touched and can get hysterical if it happens.
It is also necessary to point out that children with autism do not care about the feelings and reactions of the other students. They rarely imitate the actions and reactions of the other students in the class. Resultantly, they are perceived to be mean and rude to the other students.
Imitation of behavior is important in school because it gives children a predictable idea of what to do next (Scruggs, 2008). For example, if a child smiles at another child, it is very normal and expected that the other child will smile back.
However, this is rarely the case with a child who has autism because of their limited social skills. In the same vein, such children shy away from such friendly gestures from the other kids. In turn, they lack the form of social interaction that is enjoyed by other children.
Poliakova and Palkhivala (2008) also add that children with autism mostly portray some characteristics that push the other children away, making it difficult for them to interact with the other kids. One such behavior is screaming.
Scruggs (2008) observes that children suffering from autism have a tendency to scream whenever they feel scared, mainly because most of them do not like to be touched. Other things that can trigger screaming include impatience and wanting their parents.
The screaming is not only ear deafening, but it also scares the other children in the class away. In other words, the other pupils become scared of interacting with the child out of the fear that the child may start screaming.
Another behavior exhibited by children with autism is the unwillingness to communicate, which limits their social interaction further. Meadan and Monda-Amaya (2008) argue that there are times when the child will refuse to talk.
For instance, the child may refuse to respond to the teacher or fellow students. In the past, many teachers would relish such acts because the child would appear quiet and calm.
However, recent studies show that the child feels vulnerable if he exhibits such behavior, which is portrayed in the form of tendency to refuse to talk. Many draw on their books, instead of interacting with the rest because the communication process is too complicated. It further hampers their academic and social development.
The lack of proper social interaction makes it difficult for the child with autism to advance in their studies. As they grow up, they refuse to be paired with other children for assignments. They also fail to make friends who can help them with school work or just talk regarding everyday issues that may linger in their minds.
Teachers act as the meeting point between the child who has autism and the other children in the classroom. It is up to the teacher to ensure that the child is comfortable enough to interact with the other kids. Improving the social skills of children with autism is not easy. However, it can be achieved through a series of behavior change models created by the teacher.
As mentioned, teachers are the pivot of the relationship between the children who suffer from autism and the other children in the classroom. All the children, including those who have autism, know and trust the teacher.
The child with autism will be more comfortable with a teacher they have known for a long time compared to the students in the class because they are many and may be newer to the child.
The first thing a teacher can do to help a child with autism is to encourage the development of social skills. Scruggs (2008) argues that there are teachers who force children with autism to partner with the other kids on school assignments in order to get them to open up.
Improving social skills can be achieved using a series of well-defined lessons on the same. For instance, the teacher can take time to help the child learn non-verbal cues. Nonverbal cues are the most important form of communication for a person suffering from autism (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010).
Understanding how space, time, and gestures affect other people can help the individual interact freely with other people. Understanding nonverbal cues can also assist the child when they do not want to talk.
The second thing a teacher can do is to create an inclusive educational environment for the child (Santoli et al., 2008). It is true that children with autism have a hard time interacting with other children. It is also true that they cannot be forced to interact with the other children.
However, shaping the classes to suit the child will help in keeping them calm enough to interact with the other kids. If the child likes painting and drawing, then the teacher can first give every child drawing materials and leave them draw.
The teacher can then pair the students to analyze and talk about their drawings. At this point, the teacher should pair with the child because they will prove calmer when with the teacher than another child.
The child can then slowly start pairing up with the other children. It is crucial for the teacher to use an activity that the child enjoys the process of fitting into the school setting.
In the same manner, the teacher can instill patience in the other students. It is easier for children to understand that a person is not feeling well and respect that.
The teacher should encourage the other children not to make fun of the child who has autism and not to feel offended whenever the child becomes aloof. The positive reaction that the other kids give may encourage the child to open up.
Teachers should also monitor the child and learn their responses (Scruggs, 2008). It is not enough for the teacher to just make sure that the child is feeling okay and calm. Instead, the teacher has to ensure that they monitor the behavior of the child.
Monitoring will help the teacher find out some of the things that make the child irritated and aloof. Similarly, monitoring the child’s reaction will show the teacher what the child likes, which can then be incorporated into the class work to make learning easier for the child.
Santoli et al. (2008) argue that not all children who have autism are slow learners. However, monitoring can help the teacher be in a position to decide the pace that is required for the child to understand the concepts that are taught in class.
Particular attention in the sense of a special teacher should be provided for the students who are extremely slow. However, the teacher has to come up with a teaching model that will suit the pace of the child who has autism if the child is not very slow.
Using the example of a child who likes to draw, the teacher can use drawings to teach. The other children will not have a problem using such customized learning activities, given that they have average learning speeds.
In conclusion, teaching children with autism does not have to be as difficult as it was a decade ago. Many teachers have the skills and tools that allow equip them to help these children fit in a typical class.
One of the major things that make it difficult for the child who has autism to form relationships with the classmates is abnormal behavior. For instance, the child may scream and make the other children scared of interacting with the child.
Teachers are encouraged to create an inclusive learning environment for the child to solve such problems. The teacher has to monitor the development and reactions of the child who has autism in order to establish a suitable environment.
Additionally, the teacher has to draft suitable learning and teaching methods that target the development of social skills of the child who has autism, thereby improving the cognitive development of the child.
Mastropieri, M., & Scruggs, T. (2010). The inclusive classroom: Strategies for effective differentiated instruction. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson
Meadan, H., & Monda-Amaya, L. (2008). Collaboration to promote social competence for students with mild disabilities in the general classroom: a structure for providing social support. Intervention in School & Clinic, 43(3), 158-167
Poliakova, N., & Palkhivala, A. (2008). Social impairment in children with autism spectrum disorder. Canadian Council of Learning, 1(1), 50-51.
Santoli, S., Sachs, J., Romey, E., & McClurg, S. (2008). A successful formula for middle school inclusion: Collaboration, time, and administrative support. Research in Middle Level Education Online, 32(2), 1-13.
Scruggs, A. (2008). Effective reading instruction strategies for students with significant cognitive disabilities. Electronic Journal for Inclusive Education, 2(3), 1-11