Educators and other educational staff are facing increasing challenges of planning and employing efficient education programs for all the students including those with mental problems like autism. Recent research has presented excellent materials that have been collected by teachers and other supporters of children with autism, together with their families.
Because of the amount of information available on this, teachers can be able to develop teaching program for individual students based on the needs. However, there are some key ideas and methods of supporting such students that need understanding by teachers, other supporters and family of such students.
Students suffering from autism are not able to learn easily and in the same manner as their normal peers and as such, they require support to help them succeed. This support may come in the form of modification of the curriculum to cater for the special needs of the autistic children.
Saudi Arabia has developed special schools with curricula that are designed to help these students who have special needs for them to learn. The teachers are specially trained for this job.
Definition of Autism
Information about autism is very important for teachers and other educational supporters and this will be the basis on which teaching methods and other support services will be devised (American Psychiatric Association 2010, para. 3).
Instructors and education supporters will benefit by understanding the definition, description of its characteristics and the repercussions for teaching. They will also understand strategies for effective teaching and management of autistic students.
Autism is described as a Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) and this condition has a number of characteristics that are define it (American Psychiatric Association 2010, para. 3). They include, impaired communication, poor social interaction and behaviour and restricted, recurring and stereotypic behavioural patterns of conduct and activities.
Autism is hence a complex disorder of the neurological function of the brain and it is essentially as medical condition rated on a spectrum (Al-Ayadhi 2008, p. 192). Its symptoms therefore range on a continuum of combination being described as mild to severe (Roth 2011, p. 18). For instance, a patient can suffer intellectual disability while another patient may have normal intelligence development.
There could be a number of hardships in the expansive and receptive language communication and it’s estimated that about half of the autistic individuals fail to develop functional speech (Roth 2011, p. 18). However, for those who do, their speech is usually with inadequate communicative function and of very pitiable quality.
Autism is not a curable condition and it’s a life-long development disorder that a person has to cope with (Al-Ayadhi 2008, p. 192). The individual will always fail to easily understand what she/he sees, hears or otherwise sense by other senses. This is what aggravates the social relationships, conduct and communication problems.
Even though it’s known that people with autism face serious difficulties when it comes to social interaction and conduct, the level usually vary. Some patients are usually withdrawn from social activities while others are overactive and interact with people in weird ways (Roth 2011, p. 19). Students with autism had difficulties if inattention and often resist change.
They may respond to sensory stimulation in an unusual way and may portray odd character like spinning or flapping their hands (Al-Ayadhi 2008, p. 193). Autistic individuals can have common characteristics but there is never tow people presenting same profile of symptoms or behaviour.
The common characteristics are used for identifying the general need for autistic individuals. However, it is pertinent to combine understanding of specific abilities, interests and the observed signs for every student (Roth 2011, p. 18).
Causes of Autism
It is yet to be proven the actual cause of combination of factors that precipitate into autism. However, research has found increasing evidence that this is a genetic disorder with a number of genes being affected (Lopez-Duran 2010, para. 2). The mode of genetic transmission is very complicated and researches have concentrated identifying and isolating the involved genes.
Evidence shows that there is higher prevalence in children born out of early pregnancies or early life activities and environment could affect the vulnerability if the child (Newschaffer et al. 2007, p. 237). Some studies also show that the brain of autistic people is slightly different from normal individuals as anomalies in the nerves in the head have been observed.
Trained physicians or clinical psychologist in autism are the people who can be able to do an accurate diagnosis. However, the assessment and diagnosis is supposed to entail a multidisciplinary team of a language and speech pathologist, psychologist, and a paediatrician psychiatrist (Lopez-Duran 2010, para. 2).
A psychologist assesses the developmental stage and behaviour of the child, the language pathologist evaluates communicative language expression and the paediatrician psychiatrist helps to rule out other causes of the observed symptoms (Roth 2011, p. 23).
There is a criteria developed for this diagnosis, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder – DSM IV and it uses the following major symptoms;
- impaired communication and wretched social interaction (Newschaffer et al. 2007, p. 237)
- restrictive, recurrent and stereotypic manner of conduct, activity and concern
Saudi Arabia’s Stance on Autism
Saudi Arabia does not have a good reputation when it comes to taking care of members with special needs like autistic children. It is therefore a great moment anytime, autism in Saudi Arabia is discussed because the position is going to change dramatically (Al-Salehi 2009, p. 340). Since the condition has no cure, it is often feared by parents in Saudi Arabia.
One can really seen people with disability in Saudi Arabia and this is not to mean that they do not exist rather it’s because of the societal treatment of these people that make them isolated.
The people are very judgmental on disabled individual together with their families and the harsh treatment they give such people often makes them to be isolated or hidden by family members to avoid contempt from other people (Al-Salehi 2009, p. 340).
Even in today’s society, physical and mental problems are still widely stigmatized in this Arab kingdom and parents keep their autistic children hidden because of the fear of ridicule and as such, these children fail to get the help they require to attain better development.
There have been very few studies in Saudi Arabia on autism because of the social isolation and discriminations of families with such people and the patients themselves (Al-Salehi 2009, p. 340).
However, some rough estimates about the prevalence of the condition in Saudi Arabia show that there are 18 people affected by the condition out of 10,000 (Fombonne 2003, p. 89). This is even higher than the developed nations which average at 13 per 10,000.
In the recent address of the autism problem in the world, the last world autism awareness, it was very exciting to see that the Arab world taking part. This means they are ready to take the bold step of addressing autism like any other diseases by providing relevant resources.
To understand its diagnosis and the ways that people can use to support autistic children (Fombonne 2003, p. 91). Even though children with autism are different, they are very important component of the society as human beings and need help just like other children.
More male children suffer autism compare to female children in Saudi Arabia, and the number of registered cases of autism increasing as families come open with their children who need help (Fombonne 2003, p. 91).
Saudi has a plan through its ministries to offer support to families with such people in terms of medication and social services. Because of the limited, currently only the Saudi children are eligible for the financial assistance from the government (Fombonne 2003, p. 96). However, there are plans underway where, more of the residents even the non-Saudi children will be able to get this financial aid in the near future.
Saudi Arabia has few schools for the autistic children. This was an idea hatched to address the hardship that parents go through in trying to find a proper school for their children.
This is often a daunting experience, coupled with the ridicule from some people and compounded with the fact that normal school may not adequately address the needs of these special students, it is proper to have greater understanding of learning needs of autistic children (Al-Salehi 2009, p. 343).
There are very few options available for education the children with autism and this is the reason for increasing the scope of the special needs which are autistic specific and recommending it to the government.
Typically autistic students are unable to learn things instantly by observation and participation because of their impaired communication and social development, these children have very minimal interest in the learning situation.
Their thought, perception of the environment around them and attention span is greatly affected (Newschaffer et al. 2007, p. 239). Despite these difficulties, these children have a right to education, right to play and enjoy their childhood and the right to therapy.
Ethically, there are certain best practices that need to be put into consideration. Just like other children, autistic children need to have a safe and predictable learning environment. They need to be at the same development level as their normal peers as much as possible though to achieve this they will need extensive support (American Psychiatric Association 2010, para. 6).
The children should have consistent routines and processes to follow in their education. There should be very minimal distractions and sensory stimuli in the learning environment (Newschaffer et al. 2007, p. 239).
Autism specific skill should be taught by use of behaviour modification model with the children’s conduct as basis of instruction. The instructors should set communication as the main goal and finally there should be incentives and reinforcement of the learnt material or activities.
Addressing Deficits of Autistic Children
All children with autism have difficulties in language expression and communication even though the degree to which this happens varies a lot. The problems could be non-verbal or serious language deficiency in social use (Ozand et al., 2003, p. 56). Children tend to be caught up in their own world where communication is not significant.
The common problem includes abnormal gestures, improper facial expression, strange body language or gesture and poor non-verbal communication. They have limited vocabulary, slower or fast talk, repetitive and meaningless speck and limited social function (Lopez-Duran 2010, para. 2).
There is a long list of factors of bad communication and students have difficulty in understanding verbal information, following a conversation and recalling a series of instruction.
Implication in education: in order to help these students to understand, Saudi Arabia education system has to use effective programs for comprehensive communication evaluation and intervention. This will involve speech and language assessment and informal observation of the way children carry themselves around in the class environment (Karim 2009, p. 9).
This assessment identifies goals and help in development of strategies that will help instructors to facilitate development of receptive language and expressive skills (Ozand et al. 2003, p. 56). Instruction should be able to emphasize on development of attention capacity, imitation, and comprehension and good use of language.
Students suffering from autism have varied social interaction behaviour and in most cases they experience a lot if difficulties in establishing new relationships. Their way of interaction is rigid and very limited (Ozand et al. 2003, p. 57). This difficulty is often interpreted as lack of interest of refusal to interaction with peers. Such children in Saudi Arabia were often and some still are secluded because of this.
This ineffective communication causes inability to distill social information from social interaction and utilize proper skills of communicating. In order to understand social situations, the student needs to process the language and non-verbal communication and this is the major deficit in autistic children (Ozand et al. 2003, p. 57).
These children fail to notice crucial social cues and often miss on important messages. These children cannot non-verbal behaviour with their social interaction and they in the same manner fail to read non-verbal communication from others (Karim 2009, p. 9).
Students fail to connect mental states and activities. For instance, autistic children may not realize another child annoyed even when that particular child is crying just since they themselves are not annoyed.
Instructors are able to better help these children when they understand that these children may not be able to perceive that other people have different viewpoints (Karim 2009, p. 9). The autistic students also have unusual and stereotypical way of playing with toys and they play lacks creative imagination.
Implication in teaching – social skills development is very important for these students who have special needs and it is an important factor for devising plans to manage their challenging behaviours. These students cannot learn just by observing or participating (Magnusen 2005, p. 81). It is hence proper to target specific instruction and offer support for this instruction skills in a social setting.
Children with autism in most cases demonstrate strange and distinctive behaviour like resisting change (Magnusen 2005, p. 81). They also get fascinated by movement like spinning, preoccupation with some parts of a toy, limited range of interests and rigid adherence to non-functional habits.
Implication in teaching – most of these unusual and stereotypical behaviours can be due to other causes like sensory stimulation and lack of understanding the social situation or anxiety. The instruction plan for these students should include strategies that will expand the interests of the students.
The instruction should also be based on the student’s reaction to sensory stimuli, development skills and preparation of the students for the anticipated change (Ashcroft et al 2009, p. 143). When planning on the teaching strategy, Saudi teachers should put into consideration the problematic behaviour and its implication on a particular student.
For instance, a student who has a problem in attention and evading things, it could not be easy to do away will all the repetitive behaviours (Karim 2009, p. 10). For successful instruction and support for these students, environmental adjustments to reduce improper behaviour can be necessary. This can be used together with training students on other proper behaviour serving the same purpose.
Poor Attention span
Autistic children have unusual attention span and they have difficulties in a range of areas. This has a very serious implication for effective communication, academics achievement and social development (Magnusen 2005, p. 85). Students with autism suffer attention deficits and they fail to focus on relevant cues or information in the surrounding (Ozand et al. 2003, p. 58).
Their attention is focused on specific areas of the environment and they consequently exclude relevant information. For instance, students may be looking at a ball and not the person the ball is going to be thrown to. If not, a child could fail to take note of insignificant details like the staple holding a booklet and not the writing in it.
Students could also have some difficulties in disengaging or shifting their focus to other objects or information and this is what contributes to the rigidity and resistance to change (Ashcroft et al 2009, p. 143). In the education of Saudi children, this behaviour is an impediment to instruction therefore leads to poor performance.
Implication for teaching – difficulties with attention could considerably affect the students’ ability to develop social character and use of language. For instance, an autistic student could react to irrelevant social cue that catch their attention or they could respond to only a part of a conversation and therefore fail to understand the message that was being passed across (Ozand et al. 2003, p. 59).
These students are not able to pay attention to multiple cues in a conversation. Therefore when instruction is being passed to these students, Saudi instructor should ensure that these instructions are passed in proper format, which is coherent and focuses their attention by putting emphasis on pertinent information.
Individual plan can be developed for each student to focus their attention as part of the instruction strategy (Magnusen 2005, p. 88).
Supporting Students with Autism
It is appropriate that each student should have and personal education plan. This plan should describe the goals, the curricula, and accommodations. The classroom should be planned well and everything in it arranged properly (Magnusen 2005, p. 68).
With Saudi stepping up the its effort to provide support to children with autism, the instructors of these special schools should be able to utilize a structured teaching schedule listing the activities that will be carried out by the students during the day (Magnusen 2005, p. 68). Unlike in the normal classes, these children need to be engaged on tasks that explicitly focus on learning objectives because their attention is deficient.
These children may not change from one task to another easily. These children could want to remain sited on a particular seat or use a certain pencil all through (Ashcroft et al 2009, p. 144).
The transition from one task to the next should be properly designed so that the change can be effected by everyone and the teacher can help students who have difficulties on changing (Magnusen, 2005, p. 69). The new changes are introduced gradually in the instructional learning goals that differentiate the learning objectives of these students with special needs.
Things like sound (high pitch), light (very bright light) and smell should be checked because these students could present unusual sensitivity to these factors. The instruction should be done by repetition of the information, restructuring sentences, rephrasing questions (Ashcroft et al 2009, p. 148), using visual cues to alter behaviour and modelling of tasks.
Peer Initiation Tactics
This strategy is where the socially competent peers are taught and trained to strike a conversation and maintain social interaction with the autistic children in a normal setting. Two children are paired in this strategy (socially competent and autistic) (Lopez-Duran 2010, para. 6). These peer-mediated social interaction processes have been under research for a number of years.
These strategies yield direct outcome of increased social response by the autistic children (Magnusen 2005, p. 81). This strategy is very effective because of the peer acceptance and increased positive social interaction that it brings to the students.
Besides pairing, triads can be used where two socially competent peers are matched with autistic child and this is thought to bring better outcome. The reason being that it compensates for the ‘dead time’ in the pairing system where communication is somehow limited (Magnusen 2005, p. 81).
The advantages of using the peer-initiated strategies, these strategies take place in the natural setting. The outcomes are valid interaction skills because the programs are dependent on socially competent students. Besides the strategies are easier and time efficient (Magnusen, 2005, p. 84).
These strategies cause increased positive response for both autistic children and the normal children. This develops long lasting social skills as well.
This is a strategy of teaching children with special needs and it involves the use of a variety of instructional models like visual supports, music, and picture exchange communication among others. This design of teaching arranges the learning environment in a manner that will allow the children to easily understand (Ashcroft et al, 2009, p. 149).
Visual cues are very important for this type of learning because children with autism can easily focus on the appropriate information which would otherwise have been difficult for them in normal learning setup.
Physical structure is the manner in which the environment is set up for learning. This is basically what is done in the classroom modification. However, it extends to thinks like the playground, hallways and locker rooms (Ashcroft et al, 2009, p. 152). This should be done in a very clear and expressive manner that the children are able to follow or attend to what is supposed to be done.
Children with autism are not competent enough to learn like their peers who are normal. This is the reason why, these children need support in their education or learning programs to attain same success as their peers. Their instructional programs are complex since each child is unique in terms of learning style, development of social skills, communication and they have odd character.
The Saudi Arabian government should ensure that as it supports education for children with autism, the instructional program should be based on the unique special needs of every student as variability is only a slight one.
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