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Autism Awareness DayThirty years ago no one would have predicted a day when children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) would be involved in school activities with their peers. But hard work by parents, teachers, and members of the research community has made this a reality. Children with autism are now able to learn beside their brothers and sisters. They contribute to community projects, and make their voices heard in matters that affect their well-being.

Many of the strategies developed to meet the needs of children with autism benefit others who struggle to succeed in school. Here are some of my favorites:

Visual Templates

Children with autism tend to be visual learners. They benefit from visual cues that remind them of the sequence of daily activities or steps in familiar routines.  This strategy helps all children manage their environment.  It is especially useful for those who find it difficult to sequence, or whose anxiety limits their ability to navigate a language based environment without support.

See www.mayer-johnson.com/boardmaker-software for efficient ways of constructing visual templates.

Social Stories

Carol Gray (www.thegraycenter.org ) introduced social stories as a strategy to address the social communication problems shared by many children with autism. A social story is a storybook written and illustrated  by a child and his teacher or therapist. The story describes a problem the child is having acquiring a social skill. Various ways of solving the problem are discussed, as well how a decision is made about which strategy to try.  The story is read as often as necessary until the highlighted skill is achieved.

Many children with early histories of toxic stress struggle with social communication. They don’t know how to initiate play, and often ignore other children’s invitations to join on-going activities.  They don’t know how to use language to resolve conflicts or repair their relationships with others. Social stories provide them with a description of the desired behavior that can be reviewed as often as necessary.

Scripted Language

Spontaneous speech or the ability to use language for self-expression is difficult for many children with ASD.  Scripted phrases or short sentences are often used to introduce the use of language to communicate with others. Scripts build children’s vocabulary and provide them with opportunities to participate more fully in everyday activities and routines.

Children who struggle to regulate their feelings and behavior often find themselves “at a loss for words”.  Hyper-arousal inhibits their ability to speak in stressful situations. Providing these children with scripts to greet a friend, ask for help, or invite someone to play  reduces anxiety. This makes it easier for them to participate in on-going activities and routines.

For more information about using scripts check out the social script app Quick Cues by Frazer ($4.99) or visit http://www.friendshipcircle.org/blog/2011/02/23/1