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Re: autism


From: melissa (melissa_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Wed Sep 19 2001 - 07:09:49 PDT

On 9/19/01 12:48 AM, "Meredith Noland" <> wrote:

> I just received a new student. He is autistic and I have never taught
> a student with autism. Does anyone have any experience? I
> would love some tips.
> Meredith
> ---

    From my experience, students with autism are just as varied as any other
child. Some of them don't speak at all, while others talk constantly; some
will eat anything in sight, while others won't touch anything. I'll
generalize now for the sake of being helpful.
    For one thing, individuals with autism seem to have a heightened sensory
factor. For example, the gentle stream coming from a faucet might sound like
Niagra Falls to them. Some are so distracted by noises or visual stimulation
such as posters, bright colors, etc. So your art room full of art visuals
and still life items may be too much for them to filter out. So if you see
sudden changes in behavior or the inability to focus, try removing some of
the distracting factors if possible.
    I also have noticed that many students with autism seem to have a
routine that is very important to them. For example, there was one boy who
HAD to look at two posters in my room - after that, he was content and sat
down and worked. If I refused to let him look at them, nothing got
accomplished. Another had to turn the water faucet on and off a few times
and she was happy. Others might need a special seat in the room, or come in
the room in a certain way, etc. Watch what they seem to do and if it's not a
big bother, I often let them perform their little ritual. Time of day and
adhering to their schedule was usually very important.
    Many students with autism have limited or no verbal (words)
communication. Watch carefully when they are trying to tell you something.
Some either use their own sign language or are using standard sign language.
Some have communication boards - either ones that speak or just simple
pictures/words to point to. Ask the teacher if the student has such a board.
I have found that the teachers either don't think of sending the board along
or they'll afraid that "it will get dirty" in art. Some students with autism
will either point to the object (such as a color) or will "eye up" the
desired item. Reinforcing the choice by repeating verbally the name of the
item is helpful. I made up some simple communication cards with "yes", "No",
the different colors, art materials and some other emotions or things that
might be dealt with in art. Watch for signs of frustration or the maxing of
their attention. Sometimes I found it much easier to let them hold and
stroke their favorite piece of yarn (or whatever) if they worked hard for X
number of minutes. Eye contact by students with autism was usually quite
minimal, but we still worked on it.
    Several of the autistic students that I worked with ate everything in
sight. I had to be very careful about what materials I used in class since I
knew some of it would be eaten - crayons, paint, dust on the floor, my
tablecloth - it didn't matter what it was! I used non-toxic stuff with them,
stayed away from "smelly" markers, and tried to have as much assistance as
possible. Materials were kept out of sight and reach until they were used.
    A few of the autistic students also had self-abusive behaviors, often
exacerbated or induced by loud noises, etc. By trying to reduce the
stimulating factors, these abusive behaviors were sometimes reduced as well.
Watching to see where the student's frustration/tolerance level is and
stopping before the boiling point is reached is helpful. One boy wore
special bands around his arms so he couldn't scratch his face.
    In terms of projects, I tried to work with their interests. If a student
who was reluctant to use art materials but he loved yarn, we used yarn in a
project. Overall, projects tended to be quite process oriented, with a
product being a side-benefit. Stamping and other repetitive things were a
hit. So was building with wood scraps. Just experiment and they'll let you
know what they like.
    Well, hope that helps a little bit.