April 2nd 2018 is World Autism Awareness day. Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC) are defined as neurological conditions or a spectrum of difficulties that affect social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour. Each person can experience different symptoms from ASC, such as sensory difficulties, communication and verbal difficulties and fixated interests. These can also vary in severity for each person.
Now, there are a wide variety of interventions that can be used to support and assist a child with ASC in the classroom. Whilst not a definitive list; most of these interventions can be adapted to help a child with ASC in a school environment.
Visual Tools and Visual Timetables
Visual tools are helpful for those with ASC because they offer consistency and routine. It also helps prepare these children for potential changes to their time-table or structure. Visual tools can be easily adapted to an individual child, including if they have specific interest or specific communication need. Visual cards (such as emotion or ask cards) can also help a child who is non-verbal or has limited speech in communicating with school staff.
- Visual Time-Table: this shows the child what they will be doing all day which decreases anxiety.
- Emotion Cards: These can help a child with ASC to show their emotions to others when they need too.
- Visual Rules: A visual display of social rules or classroom rules is helpful for children with ASC to refer to regularly.
Now and Next Board: A Now and Next board shows what the children are doing now and what they will be doing next. This helps them keep track of what is happening and allows them to move onto the next activity when it is time to do so.
Carol Gray (1991) first developed the idea of using social stories. Since then, they have long been considered an evidence based method to help communicate social rules to those who have ASC, often showing good outcomes in improving social skills for individuals with ASC (Singleton, 2016).
Social stories aim to replace the social skills that those with ASC do not have. These are closely linked to the Theory of Mind, which is our ability to understand and guess the thoughts of others. Social stories aim to help individuals with ASC to understand this perspective of others, and help them in gaining these social skills.
Social stories have have been successfully used in mainstream schools (Marshall, et al., 2016) and by mothers of children with ASC (Acar, Tekin-Iftar & Yikmis, 2017). They can be written by anyone if you follow these guidelines:
- Social stories are very short
- Focused on one specific aim
- They should usually be written in first person or using the child’s name.
- They should also be written in present tense
Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA)
Applied behavioural analysis (ABA) is the application of principles from behaviourism and behaviour analysis. Behaviourism focuses on looking at the external behaviour, rather than the internal causes. Behaviourism also places an emphasis on reinforcement to modify behaviour. ABA therapy would focus on analysing the behaviour of the child with ASC and then applying appropriate behavioural interventions to change the behaviour in a social context. The very focus of ABA is to use reinforcement to modify targeted behaviours in a child with ASC; this can be done for a variety of behaviours, in schools, at home or out on the streets.
ABA uses positive reinforcement to encourage a child with ASC to change their social behaviour positively. E.g. giving a child some sweets for giving eye-contact or offering a game of the child’s choice if they verbally request something. ABA has long been considered a safe and effective intervention, used in family and classroom settings. ABA has been shown to have positive outcomes for children with ASC in developing their coping skills and their adaptive behaviour (Eikeseth, S., 2009; Eldevik, S., et al., (2009).