Attention and Concentration
Tegan finds the other students in the class very annoying and distracting, and isn’t getting her work done.
Points to note
• Students with ASD tend to be easily distracted. The student might find it hard to concentrate because of background noise, flickering lights or the movement of others about the room. Classrooms that are very bright and colourful can overload the student with visual information. Many students find it particularly hard to ‘filter out’ background noise and visual information.
• Stress and anxiety will affect concentration levels. See the Behaviour Management section for more information.
• The student may have another condition such as ADHD that affects their ability to concentrate.
• Strong perfume, deodorant or other smells may be overwhelming to the student, causing irritation and an inability to concentrate.
• The student may have trouble understanding what to focus on; and may be unaware of the ‘big picture’, concentrating instead on small, irrelevant details.
• The student is likely to have an obsessive interest that can intrude on thoughts. The student may pay little attention to an activity that does not fall into their particular area of interest.
• Students with ASD may ignore group instructions because they don’t think they are part of the group.
• Attention may be poor where there is a receptive language difficulty. The student may not take in what is being said; and may just ‘tune out’.
• The student with ASD can have difficulty predicting how long an activity will last; this uncertainty may cause anxiety which will affect concentration.
• During an activity the student may get stuck but won’t ask for help and starts doing something else. Teachers may interpret this as poor concentration.
• It is common for people with ASD to be very rigid and selective in their choice of food, i.e. choosing to eat foods of a certain texture, taste or colour. A diet that is nutritionally inadequate will affect ability to concentrate and behaviour.
• You will find that the student is far better at absorbing information from a documentary program or using educational software than listening to a teacher in class.
What you can do
• If appropriate, play background music to mask out unwanted noise.
• When demonstrating an activity you’ll need to remind the student what to focus on. Visual cue cards may be more effective than verbal prompts because words ‘disappear’ quickly.
• Try to incorporate the student’s particular topic of interest into activities to increase attention and motivation. This could be as simple as placing a sticker related to the student’s interest in the corner of a worksheet.
• Use the student’s name frequently when addressing the class as a whole. This will help the person recognise they are part of the group. If the student has an aide, ask them to repeat the instruction individually if necessary.
• Keep your language clear and uncomplicated, giving one instruction at a time. Give the student sufficient time to process the instruction, then check understanding.
• Try to keep tasks as relevant and functional as possible. The students might have little motivation to complete a task that has little relevance or personal meaning.
• Make sure the student understands the activity, knows how to start and when to finish. Use a kitchen timer or clock to show how long the activity will last; this will help the student develop a concept of time.
• If concentration deteriorates throughout the day, it could be due to low energy or a poor diet. The student may need a consult with a dietician or doctor to check if they are receiving adequate nutrition.
• If all else fails and the student just won’t pay attention, some time out to let off steam may help.
Creative Writing and Literacy
Points to note
• Students with ASD are often fantastic readers but struggle to write coherent structured pieces or creative pieces of writing.
• Students with ASD are often very good at reading because they have terrific visual learning skills. Some can decode words beyond the level of their comprehension. This is known as hyperlexia.
• Comprehension can be difficult for students with ASD because they have ‘theory of mind’ deficits. They can have difficulty understanding the motivations and intentions of others (and therefore, the characters in story books). They may have an understanding of the story but are unable to answer questions about it. ‘Why’ questions are particularly difficult as they require the ability to reason.
• Some students refuse to read anything but non-fiction; this allows the gathering of facts and knowledge on preferred interests.
• Most students with ASD are visual learners. When learning new words, it is best to take a ‘whole word’ approach rather than a phonetic approach, as this may teach the student only to sound out the word, not the word itself.
• In creative writing, the student might lack imagination, have difficulty getting started and organising thoughts in sequence. The student may not provide enough information to ensure reader understanding, assuming that the reader knows as much about the plot and characters. The student may only write on a limited range of topics and may be unable to write about anything outside personal experience.
What you can do
• If the student is stuck reading books on one topic, encourage books on related topics.
• If the student has an impaired imagination, may have difficulty relating to fantasy stories and prefer to read about things that are real and of interest.
• Computer programs that teach comprehension and creative writing will be of great benefit to the student and encourage him to work independently.
• Encourage the student to make his or her own story using computer images – photos, pictures and drawings. Encourage the student to describe what is on each page to develop the story.
• Practice sequencing using images that show a series of events. Ask the student to retell the events in their own words. This will help develop an understanding of questions such as “What happened before …?” and “What happens next …?”
• After reading a story ask the student ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ questions. Many will find these questions confusing, so it may help to provide two alternative answers to prompt the correct response. Move on to ‘why’ questions as verbal ability and comprehension improves, again providing prompts.
• In creative writing, allow the student to write about personal experiences. Then, to develop creativity, pose questions like, “What would have happened if…” and have the student write an alternate version.
• If the student has difficulty starting a creative writing task, try using pictures or cartoons first to aid organisation of thoughts.
Effective Rewards and Motivators
Points to note
It is important to reward positive and desired behaviour in young people with ASD. This helps motivate the person to repeat the preffered behaviours and to take pride in their achievements. Finding out what rewards and motivates an individual with ASD is very important to ensure success when teaching new skills and encouraging positive behaviour.
Motivators are important because:
• Students with ASD lack an inbuilt desire to please others.
• The student may become anxious when asked to do something that is unfamiliar, preferring familiar activities and routines that help the student feel safe and secure. It’s important to identify and use appropriate rewards and motivators to encourage development of new skills.
• The rewards that motivate other students may not appeal to a young person with ASD.
• The usual things we say or do to praise a student for a job well done may have no real meaning to the student with ASD. For example, “Nice job” or a pat on the back.
• Rewarding positive behaviour helps the student understand what is acceptable behaviour
What you can do
• Assess the student’s interests to establish what will be the most effective rewards and motivators. This information can be listed on the Student Summary. Conduct regular reviews as interests can change over a period of time.
• Creative teachers can work the student’s preferred interest into lessons and activities.
• Allow the student free time at preferred interest if work is completed before the other students. Reading, drawing, playing a computer game or visiting the library are all good activities.
• Give the student ‘Behaviour Bucks’ as a reward for good behaviour. Photocopy dollar ‘notes’ that can be used to buy a larger reward. A great method for teaching money maths.
• A student that particularly dislikes homework may be motivated to improve behaviour or complete class work if excused from homework for a day.
• An extension of the pass card, is a reward system with positive reinforcers printed on cards. The cards are given out at random for good work/behaviour. The student can then trade these in at appropriate times.
• Another tangible reward system is a sticker card with a grid of squares. The student earns one sticker for good behaviour. When the grid is full it can be traded in for a reward. Use stickers that relate to the student’s interest.
• When the student is working toward a reward have a picture or photo of it as a visual reminder. Make sure the student understands exactly how many points he needs to earn rewards. A social story can help the student understand the reward system. See Social Stories.
• Use a communication book between home and school to report on progress, skills learnt, behaviour etc. This will give parents the opportunity to learn about and praise their child for good behaviour.
• Initially offer the student frequent rewards to improve motivation – you can be more selective later.
• Change the reward system regularly to keep up the student’s interest and motivation.
• A student with challenging behaviour may hear nothing but negative comments, so be quick to praise even minor improvements in behaviour. This will help improve self-esteem.
• Make your praise meaningful. Instead of ‘Good job’ or ‘Well done’ try these phrases;
You’ve certainly worked hard.
You must have been practicing.
You’re really learning a lot.
Now you’ve worked it out.
You’re doing much better today.
That’s a real improvement.
I’m happy to see you enjoy working.
You’re getting better at it every day.
You remembered everything!
You’re very good at that now.
Handwriting Difficulties and Note Taking
Brody is reluctant to take notes – he hates making mistakes that are permanent, but is more co-operative when he can use a computer.
Points to note
• The student with ASD may have fine motor difficulties that it make it hard to write neatly. it may be difficult for the student to a pen properly.
• The student may be a perfectionist who insists on always forming letters perfectly. Activities may never be completed because the student does them over and over to make them perfect. The student may be an extremely slow writer, or may write well at the beginning of an activity but gets tired quickly.
• Some students with ASD insist on writing in capital letters.
• The student’s handwriting may suffer if anxious about writing well or stressed by some other issue.
• The student may have difficulty taking notes from the blackboard, as this involves reading the words, keeping them in memory momentarily, writing them down, often while listening to verbal instructions from a teacher or the chatter of peers! It is very difficult for students with ASD to attend to more than one stimulus at a time.
• Sometimes a student is so self-conscious about poor handwriting that written work may not be handed in.
• The student with autism may suffer a condition called Dysgraphia, where the persons writing skills are much lower than their age, IQ and education level.
What you can do
• Some students may need to use paper with larger lines to keep letters even and uniform.
• Students who insist on writing in capitals may have learnt to write this way prior to school entry and have become ‘stuck’. Individual teachers can decide whether to tackle this issue. There are many other ways of recording information.
• Show the student how you handle mistakes when you are writing.
• Some students write better if their writing surface is raised to a 15-degree angle.
• While handwriting difficulties need to be addressed, consider alternative methods of recording such as using a laptop or mini tape recorder. These can be useful when the student needs to record a lot of information.
• Give the student advance warning that they will need to write in the session and how much is expected.
• Assign a note taking buddy – have another student photocopy his notes to ensure the student with autism has a complete set. Summarise key points in a handout. Note also that some students with autism have great difficulty reading the handwriting of others.
• For those with anxiety about making mistakes social stories can help.
• Allow the student to type written work. Ask the student’s parents if they can transcribe the work if the student is not a competent typist.
More information on Dysgraphia can be obtained from http://suelarkey.com.au/media/Tip_Sheet_-_Dysgraphia_and_Typing.pdf and http://www.autism-help.org/comorbid-dysgraphia-autism.htm
Improving Organisational Skills
Points to note
• People with ASD tend to have poor executive functioning skills. This means the student might have difficulty with organisation, task sequencing, planning, prioritising and getting started.
• A student with ASD can easily become overloaded and confused coping with the social demands of school life. This added stress affects the ability organise themselves and their belongings.
• The student may not see the point of being well organised and may have little motivation to please others or master new skills.
• The student can have particular difficulty remembering which items to bring from home and what to take home each day, the materials required for certain classes, knowing where to put answers on a work sheet and finding their way around school.
What you can do
• The student will benefit from having a map of the school. Use highlighters to colour code classrooms, home room, canteen, etc.
• Use a homework assignment book or sheet. This should clearly state what is expected as well as listing the books and resources needed to fulfil the requirements. Have the student’s parents check and sign the book and copy important dates on to a calendar.
• Encourage the student to use a calendar at home (preferably one related to a special interest) as a constant visual reminder of important dates, assignments due etc.
• Talk to the student’s parents about providing a suitable place at home to complete homework. It is essential this space is free from distractions.
• It is important the student has time to ‘unwind’ at the end of the day so traditional forms of homework may be off the agenda. A home work assignment that meets the unit requirements but can be completed relating to a topic of interest, using a computer and multi media resources, may be far more motivating for the student to complete.
• Use different coloured plastic tubs or trays to organise workspace.
• Suggest the student use a colour coding system for notebooks, text books and folders for each subject.
• Use a visual or written timetable that shows the items that are required for each lesson.
• Allocate a time each week for ‘housekeeping’ and a general tidy up of the student’s work area, locker etc. The student may also benefit from having a larger locker if this is possible.
• Enlarge worksheets onto A3 size paper and using a highlighter, mark the spaces for each answer.
• The student may need some help getting started with an activity. A physical prompt may be necessary. Try providing a list, sequencing the tasks to reach the goal of the activity.
Learning To Ask For Help
Points to note
• The student may have difficulty asking for help and will work on something until their frustration is very high or they have a meltdown. The young person may not know that other people may be able to help them.
• Even a student with good language skills may not recognise the need to tell someone about feeling frustrated, or that something is troubling them.
• A student who is being harassed or bullied may not complain about or report incidents unaware that teaching staff actually need this information in order to take action.
• A student who appears lazy or avoids work may in fact be unable to get on with the task.
• Young people with ASD are often worried about appearing different and will be reluctant to seek help from aides and teachers in case they get teased or called stupid.
What you can do
• The student with ASD needs help to understand emotions and how to convey them.
• If you ask an open question, the student may say ‘no’ when meaning ‘yes’. For example, instead of saying “Are you too hot?” you might say, “If you are feeling too hot then you need to take off your jumper.” Instead of saying “Do you need help?” say “If it’s hard then you need to say ‘I need help’”.
• The young person with ASD might be very insecure about appearing stupid so have an agreed code or signal to encourage them to ask for help.
• Be aware of the tasks that cause the most difficulty. Work alongside the student and help recognise when he is having difficulty. Teach a standard phrase to use, such as “I’m stuck” or “I can’t do this.” Older children who don’t want to draw attention to themselves could use an agreed signal to alert their teacher that they need assistance.
• Appoint an understanding peer or staff member to counsel and debrief the student following an incident. Make sure they have private 1:1 time to discuss the situation in detail.
• There may be a tendency for the student to apply one problem solving strategy and apply this rigidly. The student will need assistance to think ‘outside the square’.
• When the student has completed a task, talk through the sequence of steps and reflect on what has been learnt from the exercise.
Memory, Recalling and Reflecting on Learning
Points to note
• Many people with autism have excellent memories and can recall events or information in intricate detail, particularly facts, dates and information on their topic of interest. Many people with autism have excellent rote memories.
• According to some theories, many learning difficulties experienced by people with ASD arise from a failure to develop an experience ‘of self’. It is as if they have difficulty experiencing events as happening to themselves, rather it is like they are watching a video of life. This lack of experiencing self has a profound effect on the student’s ability to process information.
• When you ask the student with ASD a question, responding may take some time as the person has to stop thinking present thoughts, process the meaning of the question, come up with an answer and then respond.
• The students might have difficulty accessing and retrieving memories without a specific cue. It is not that the information is not there, but the student may not have a meaningful framework in which to link events and personal memories.
• The student may have difficulty responding to an open question, such as “What did you do on the weekend?’ but he may be able to answer questions when given alternatives, such as, “Did you go the park or the beach on the weekend?” This type of questioning gives a prompt to retrieve the information from memory.
What you can do
• Be aware of the student’s difficulties with open questions, only use these if you feel the student can give an appropriate response. Otherwise, ask questions that give a cue as to the correct response.
• Be patient when asking questions. Try not to interrupt or finish sentences for the student as this may interrupt thought processes and they will have to start over again.
• There are several strategies to try that may help the student to memorise specific information.
• when talking about experiences, discuss the student’s personal response, feelings and thoughts.
• Students might need assistance to identify these feelings,
– working the information into a diagram or picture form,
– helping the student to establish links between new information and information already known. Use visuals wherever possible.
• When a new skill has been learnt it is helpful to reflect on this learning before moving on.
This can be done by;
– identifying key points,
– asking the student to clearly state what they have learnt,
– making connections between what has been learnt and prior knowledge in the subject,
– making judgments about how this new skill or information will be useful in the future.
When Gary tries to play football with the other kids at lunchtime he ends up in a fight, he doesn’t understand the rules of the game and runs away with the ball.
Points to note
• Many people with Autism have some degree of motor clumsiness. Some have an odd gait when walking or running. There may be a lack of co-ordination between the upper and lower limbs or left and right sides of the body.
• This motor clumsiness may cause the young person with ASD to have poor ball handling skills, particularly if visual perception is a problem. For example, to the inability to anticipate and catch a ball being thrown in their direction.
• Poor ball handling skills can lead to ridicule by peers and exclusion from games. Unfortunately, when this occurs, the student has limited opportunities to practise skills and enjoy the social aspects of sporting activities.
• Many of the rules of team sport are invisible and complicated, free flowing and very difficult to for a person with autism to follow.
• A student who is tactile defensive will dislike the physical contact of team sports.
• People with autism sometimes have poor core strength, muscle tone, hyper mobile joints and may tire easily, all of which make physical activity difficult.
• The young person with autism might have a very strong sense of justice; and will get very upset if someone has cheated in a game. Young people with ASD often expect to win and become very upset when beaten as they like to know there is a predictable outcome to an event, i.e. they expect to win.
• Proprioceptive difficulty leads to an inability to judge the position of one’s body in space. The student may not be very good at imitating others and balance may also be affected.
• The student may have auditory sensitivities and the acoustics of a gymnasium can be unbearable. The sound of whistles, bouncing balls and voices echoing off the walls can be painful.
What you can do
• A physiotherapist or occupational therapist can put together a program to assist with co-ordination, core strength and stability.
• Individual activities may be more suited to a person with ASD. Gym programs, swimming, karate, tennis are all more solitary physical activities that people with ASD tend to be able to participate in better than team activities. These activities can also help build coordination and skills.
• Ball handling skills can greatly improve the student’s acceptance by peers. The young person may never be an outstanding player but ball skills can be improved through a regular physical education program. Ball handling skill can be practiced 1;1.
• If auditory sensitivity is a problem, the student may like to wear ear protectors. Have an agreement that the student can leave the gym if feeling overloaded.
• Use a social story to teach rules of games and develop an understanding of fair play.
• Teachers may need to pick class teams to ensure the young person with ASD is not left out or picked last for team sports.
• If the young person is not able to participate well in team games they may like to be score keeper or umpire.
Transfer of Learned Skills
Points to note
• People with ASD can be very rigid in their way of thinking. They can have great difficulty transferring the skills learnt in one setting to another, similar setting.
• Problems with memory recall lead to difficulty searching the memory for useful information. Unless they are specifically cued, the student can lack the ability to spontaneously search for knowledge that can be transferred to a new situation.
• Sometimes a student can display certain skills at school but cannot perform them independently at home, or vice versa.
• This inability to generalise skills can be a big problem if the student’s teacher is unaware of just how rigid the child can be.
What you can do
• It is important to always generalise what is being taught with a range of examples and situations. The student needs an opportunity to learn the same thing in different situations to encourage flexible thinking.
• Practice each new skill with a range of practical examples in different settings. Then move on to more complex ideas.
• There needs to be good communication between home and school. Keep a record of skill development in a Communication Book and send it home with the student each day. Newly acquired skills can then be practiced at home.
• When a new skill has been learnt, reflect on the learning experience by talking about what has been learnt and how this skill might be used in the future.
• The student should also be given the opportunity to enjoy what was learnt. Reflect on the achievement, pointing out to the student their feelings of pride.
Homework is a contentious issue for students with ASD. Many students have a strong resistance to the very idea and have great difficulty completing any homework tasks at all.
School is very stressful and often students with ASD need their downtime afterschool to cope.
- Students with autism have poor functioning in the areas of goal setting, planning, organising and prioritising tasks, managing time effectively, solving problems and staying on task. These issues can make homework very difficult.
- Assigning homework to a student struggling with the stress of school may be more than he or she can cope with.
- The student may see no point in doing school work at home if they have already covered the topic in class- in their mind it is done and there is no reason to go back over it again.
- The student may see school work is done only at school and may not want to do it at home, as home is the domain for other things.
Common problems and strategies
The student spends hours on a task when it was only intended to take a few minutes.
Be explicit with task requirements. Define specific tasks and the expected duration of each. Encourage the student to use a timer or stopwatch to manage time effectively.
Poor time management; student leaves assignments to the ‘last minute’.
Give an expected start date as well as a completion date for large assignments. Review progress regularly.
Memory problems, forgetting homework instructions and resources required.
Use a homework diary. Assign a responsible peer to act as a ‘homework buddy’ for the student to telephone if he has difficulty or forgets what to do. Fax or email a copy of homework to parents.
Refuses set homework or does not complete tasks satisfactorily.
The student is likely to have difficulty getting started and figuring out where to begin. Close supervision is needed. Speak to the student’s parents about providing assistance and guidance or hiring a homework tutor. If this is not possible, homework tasks could be completed at school during breaks under supervision of a teacher or integration aide. Strategies used for students with ADD or ADHD can also be useful.
Poor handwriting. The student may refuse to hand in work for assessment because he is self-conscious of his poor spelling or messy writing.
Allow student to use a computer for written assignments.
Student has difficulty with homework format, eg. essays.
Allow alternative assignment formats, eg. oral reports, demonstration, use of a video or audio tape recorder or computer presentation. Where sequencing and structuring of written language is a problem, permit students to submit assignments written in ‘dot point’ rather than essay format.
Student is not able to explain the formula or reasoning they used to reach a correct answer.
The strategies and thought processes used by the student may be based on intuition rather than conventional thinking. They may be unable to demonstrate or verbalise the steps they used to reach a conclusion however these do tend to be accurate. You may have to accept their reasoning at face value, even if it seems illogical to the neuro-typical mind.
Close communication between home and school is important to ensure the support of parents to get homework done, but also for schools to understand when tasks need to be modified or when the student is experiencing significant stress and will not be able to complete tasks.
How can I help my son develop his independence?
• Teens with autism are like their typically developing peers, often seeking independence and to get away from parents and carers on their own.
• Teens with autism will mature physically at the same rate as their peers, but will take longer to develop social, sexual and emotional maturity.
• Parents often worry about the ability of their teen with autism to look after themselves in the real world and want to shield them.
• To be able to be as successful and as independent as possible in the world as adults, the teen with ASD must build skills and understand their rights and responsibilities.
• Preparing the young person for independence will ensure they are more likely to be able to care for themselves in the future when a parent or carer is no longer able to care for them.
• Teaching basic skills and expecting the young person to participate in their share of household activities increases the sense of fairness in the family and lessens the burden on siblings and parents.
Things you can do to increase independence
• Often young adults with autism will struggle with hygiene and self-care if not prompted to shower. The young person with ASD needs to master these tasks and understand why it is important to be clean and well groomed each day.
• Teach and reinforce the basics of hygiene and self-care; toileting, showering, bathing, dressing and grooming
• Visual schedules and sequences or electronic reminders can help prompt these tasks.
Caring for belongings
• Teach the young person to care for their belongings appropriately and to have a special place to put important things such as keys, wallets, watches etc.
• People with autism can sometimes be messy, disorganised and lose belongings if they do not have defined spaces to put things.
• Some people with ASD are big collectors or hoarders and have difficulty letting go of things they no longer need.
• Ensure the young person has an organised way to keep their collections and make regular bedroom cleaning part of the schedule at home.
Cooking and meal preparation
Involve the teen in basic cooking to build food preparation skills and basic kitchen safety concepts. There are many great photographic step by step cook books available for people with disabilities/autism that can help.
Social stories of visual prompts/reminders may be needed to support kitchen safety concepts.
• Practice preparing breakfasts and school lunches (can be done the night before)
• Practice making basic packet cake or muffin mixes- this helps develop basic skills such as mixing, pouring, breaking eggs, and with following step by step directions.
• Get the young person with autism to take responsibility for one meal a week- planning, shopping for ingredients, cooking and cleaning up.
• Remember that practice makes perfect and sometimes mum or day may need to get out of the way to let the person make a mess, experience failure and success in their own way.
Household chores/pet care
• Get the teen to assist with chores such as washing clothes, vacuuming, yard work and gardening. Give them responsibility for specific tasks such as feeding and walking pets or bringing washing in from the line.
• Often teens with autism will pick these skills up easily if they repeated often and visual aids are provided.
• Shopping- involve the teen in food shopping – shopping provides a great opportunity to practice maths skills such as weighing and measuring, counting and calculating prices.
• Changing sheets and making beds is also an important skill to learn. The young person with ASD may have difficulty with this task due to motor coordination difficulties, but it is important to keep practicing and for the person to do as much of the task as they can.
• It is important the young person has some concept of responsibility for their own money, including their pension/part of their pension to manage savings and paying for their own expenses.
• Open a bank account and teach the young adult how to make deposits and or withdrawals, and save up money for something they want. Reward money for helping with tasks can be banked.
• Internet banking may be a great skill for young people with high functioning autism to learn, but they will also need to know how to go into a branch, fill in a deposit or withdrawal slip and line up in a queue.
Using the Library
Ensure the young adult has their own library card and knows how to borrow, care for and return books or resources. Having your own library card, borrow books and caring for them teaches responsibility and develops a sense of self.
Start teaching the teen about public transport including which bus or train to get to school or into the city if needed, how much it costs, how to read the timetable and which stop to get on and off at. What to do if the bus or train is late or isn’t coming, the best places to sit when using public transport and who and how to ask for help.
Using a phone
Often people with autism are not good at using a phone. This may be because they can’t see the person they are talking to and miss out on the visual cues needed for understanding. They may also find operating a phone /mobile difficult. Practice using a phone and calling the parent/carer, program in the numbers, identify situations when they may need to call.
It is important the young person understands
• The role of the emergency services
• Who they are
• What they do
• Emergency situations and when to call 000.
• Practice what they may need to say or do.
• Use a social story or visual reminder or script – have it on the wall near the phone
• Keep name, address and phone number details also by the phone
It is important to practice an emergency evacuation of your home with and identify a meeting place.
The person with autism may not know what the beep of the smoke detector means or automatically know to get out of the house if there is smoke or a fire.
A visual strip or social story may be needed.
The young person needs to know to get out of the house and not to hide if the smoke detector goes off.
Teach road safety in a variety of settings- as a pedestrian, as a passenger. Ensure the teen can use the traffic lights or pedestrian crossings and knows where to cross safely. Being able to safely ride a bike, scooter or skateboard with their peers is also important for a teen with ASD. Teach and enforce the importance of helmets and seatbelts.
• Some teens with autism may aspire to get their licence like their typically developing friends. Some people with high functioning autism can successfully gain their L plates/ P plates and learn to drive.
• This may not be a goal for all young people with autism but parents need to keep an open mind to the possibilities.
• Many young people with ASD pass the initial L plate theory based test quite successfully, but have issues with the coordination and concentration required to drive and gain a full licence.
• Understanding and keeping within rules and lines and obeying signals is easy for people with autism, dealing with sudden change in road conditions and the intentions and actions of other road users are not.
• See Vic Roads for further information relating to driving and people with disabilities or impairments.
Health and medical care
The teen with autism may want to take on some of the responsibility for their own health, well being and medical appointments.
Arranging appointments, attending an appointment (or part of the appointment) on their own, having their own Medicare /health care cards is part of growing up and taking responsibility for their health. Knowing where to seek health services is also important.
Sexuality and relationships
It is important the person with autism has a reasonable and factual understanding of sex, masturbation and a concept of what their rights and responsibilities are in a relationship. The young person with autism will also need to understand how to know when someone is taking advantage of them to avoid being exploited sexually, physically emotionally or financially. For more information on sexuality see Sexuality health and hygiene.
Cigarettes, Drugs and Alcohol
A young person with autism may have many questions about cigarettes, drugs and alcohol and may even want to experiment with these substances.
It is important that the young person with autism learns about
• What these substances are
• What they do
• What they look like
• Legal issues with using these substances
• Health issues that arise from using these substances.
It is critical the young person learns;
• NEVER EVER to take any pills, powders or liquids from people at school or in the community.
• They also need to know to tell someone if they are offered a substance or alcohol.
• Remember that young people with autism are easily set up by others and may not know they are in a dangerous situation and who they can trust.
Key reminders for teaching skills for independence
- Patience is critical. It can be exhausting at times but worthwhile.
- Break tasks down into steps.
- Use visual prompts for each step if needed.
- Repetition is key.
- Encourage and reward desired behaviour.
- Get out of the way and let the young person make mistakes and learn from them.
- Let the person make a mess and clean it up again as part of the learning experience.
- It does not have to be perfect. It is the attempt that counts.
- Make participation in these tasks and learning part of the daily/weekly routine.