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Autism AwarenessApril is Autism Awareness Month. This is the third post this month noting this observance. The first two focused on strategies for improving employment outcomes for individuals with autism; this one takes a look at some ideas for  helping children with autism in the classroom.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a group of developmental disorders that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 1 in 68 children has been identified with ASD. Some estimates are not quite this high (one reports 1 in 152 children), but regardless, it’s clear that teachers are likely to have a child diagnosed with some form of autism in their classroom at some point during their careers.

Guidelines and strategies – The following are among general guidelines and specific strategies for helping teachers and parents caring for children with ASD.

* Use sign language — Sign language has been used for years in special education classrooms, so why not give it a try for children with ASD? Youth often benefit from the combination of movement and visual enhancement of communication. Since children with ASD are usually visual learners, it makes sense that sign language can be beneficial for this population. Sign language can be used when teaching new concepts or when reinforcing previously introduced material. The following are several examples for incorporating sign language into everyday routines:

1) Sign words used during snack time, such as “eat,” “more” and names of various food items;

2) Sign numbers used throughout the day, such as during lunch counts or circle time;

3) Sign as a way of managing behavior by introducing words such as “no,” “line up,” “sit down” and “quiet”; and

4) Sign feelings, such as being “sad,” “angry” or “frustrated.”

Six additional guidelines and 14 additional strategies are presented in the Volume 9, No. 4 Child Care Support Network (CCSN) training, “Guidelines & Strategies for Helping Children with Autism.”

For more information on this training for early childhood professionals, which helps them meet required training hours in numerous states nationwide; call 1-800-350-4422 or visit http://www.impact-publications.com.

CCSN also has a training devoted to sign language; “Sign Language for All” (Volume 6, No. 12)