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"... the most important considerations in devising educational programs for children with autistic spectrum disorders have to do with recognition of the autism spectrum as a whole, with the concomitant implications for social, communicative, and behavioral development and learning, and with the understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the individual child across areas of development." —Educating Children with Autism, 2001
Students on the spectrum are under an amount of stress at school that can be difficult to comprehend. Little about this environment is geared toward their success. The constant social demands, sensory stimulation, and academic requirements can overwhelm them, even on their best day. In order to help them succeed, it’s necessary to appreciate the amount of effort required of them just to be there. Students on the autism spectrum often feel most safe when they feel they have some control over their environment and choices. Considering their need for control and safety along with the need to challenge them to learn and grow is a delicate balancing act.
May have difficulty identifying, controlling, and communicating his emotions
May respond “I’m fine” or “I’m happy” when it is clear he is distressed
May express emotions only in extremes
May show little emotion, even if extremely upset
May change from calm to extremely upset without apparent warning
May be easily overwhelmed by her own emotions as well as the emotions of others, even positive ones
May scream at others or cry
May become angry and lash out when someone else is upset
May become silly or wild when others are happy or excited
May shut down and become relatively unresponsive
May live with a heightened sense of anxiety; his fight-or-flight response is easily triggered
May have extreme responses to the actions of others
May respond explosively to a small offense
May cry easily
May shut down and not respond at all
May worry obsessively and be overly fearful
May have extreme responses to frustration or mistakes, even small ones
May have meltdowns*
May withdraw into his imagination
May have low self-esteem
May tend toward depression, especially during teenage years
May have a preoccupation with death or talk about suicide
May not perceive real danger and may take risks
* Meltdowns are different than temper tantrums. Deborah Lipsky describes tantrums as goal-directed behavior—an attempt to manipulate another individual. Meltdowns are uncontrolled reactions to overwhelming stress—an extreme emotional and behavioral response triggered by the fight-or-flight response. For more detailed information on meltdowns, read Managing Meltdowns: Using the S.C.A.R.E.D. Calming Technique with Children and Adults with Autism by Deborah Lipsky and Will Richards.
Improving the educational experiences and outcomes of students on the autism spectrum in grades K-12.