• Autism is a developmental disorder that can affect how one learns, but students with autism can still excel in school.
  • Teachers can help their students with autism by first considering other developmental issues to best understand how the individual learns.
  • Then, educators should offer individualized assistance to each student with autism, as no two autistic individuals have the same weaknesses or strengths.
  • Thirdly, it’s important for teachers to remember that individuals with autism often have trouble communicating in the traditional sense.
  • People with autism can still thrive in the classroom; they can best benefit from individualized care from educators that meet their specific needs.

Have you seen the new hit show “The Good Doctor”? Well, if you haven’t, the show’s main character is surgical resident Dr. Shaun Murphy. Murphy is extremely intelligent and equipped with an amazing memory. He’s passionate about human anatomy and sees the body in a different light—no one’s knowledge can compare. However, he struggles to communicate with other doctors and with patients.

Dr. Shaun Murphy has autism spectrum disorder. Regardless of the aforementioned communication issues, he breaks barriers and excels in med school. The story of Murphy is captivating and inspirational (hence, the success of the show). It shows that even with a developmental disorder like autism, which affects the way someone learns, one can overcome obstacles and succeed. That includes students trying to learn and excel in school.

Helping Students with Autism Excel in the Classroom: 3 Tips

Allison Bruning is the founder of Academic Warriors: an online school for autistic, gifted, and special needs students. She also happens to be an adult with high functioning autism herself! Bruning has firsthand experience and is passionate about educating all types of students. She discusses her approach to teaching those with autism:

Teaching an autistic child takes a personalized approach to education. The standard based traditional school system simply does not work well with this population due to the way they think. Autism is a spectrum disorder which means no two autistic children are alike, but they may share commonalities.” She goes on to explain a few necessities for meeting the needs of students with autism:

1. Consider other developmental issues.

“Most autistic students have other developmental issues and/or are Twice Exceptional,” says Bruning. “Twice Exceptional means they have a learning disability and a high IQ, aka gifted in an area. It’s best to teach Twice Exceptional kids where they are academically and not grade wise. For example, I have a fifth grader Autistic student who is working on third grade science and social studies, fourth grade language arts and fifth grade math. He was working on a lower grade in math but then skipped two grades worth of math and we excelled him in the middle of the school year. Twice Exceptional and autistic students thrive when you do something like that because they don’t feel pressured to fit in a box.” 

2. Offer individualized help.

Also, get to know each student with autism on an individual level—just as you do with other students. “When teaching autistic children, it’s important to understand who they are. Some autistic children will do better in a private one-on-one learning environment. I generally start these kids in that environment then gradually work them up into a group environment. We never go more than 10 kids to a class when working with kids who do well with social skills.” 

2. Know that they might have trouble communicating.

“Another thing to consider is how they communicate,” Bruning explains. “Some autistic children have a better time speaking their answers than writing them down. Dragon, a talk to text software, is the perfect answer for these kids. It allows them to compose their writings without having to touch a keyboard.”

As Bruning explained above, no two people with autism are alike.  No matter where one lands on the spectrum, it is important to cater to each individual in order for them to shine.

Autism: A Personal Experience that Requires Individual Treatment

“People with autism are experts on their own autism experiences,” says Haley Moss, an attorney with autism. She pushed through grade school, college, and law school, which is no small feat.  She sheds light on her experience and is here to tell us how autism affects her and the way other autistic people learn best:

For me, learning is affected because I have difficulties with executive functioning—so sometimes my short-term memory doesn’t work very well. I am also a very visual learner and find it easier to see what someone does rather than listen, because oftentimes auditory cues can be misinterpreted. Autism affects communication; therefore, it is best to be descriptive and send messages in learning that are not ambiguous. Even at work, sometimes I learn best from seeing how something similar is done rather than being told to do a specific task. 

I think the best practices are to identify learning styles and cater to as many as possible—it is possible to send both visual and auditory cues. Sometimes it is necessary to break things up into smaller steps because of executive functioning and working memory.”

People with Autism Can Thrive in School and Life

Something both of these women drew attention to is the element of individuality.  Spectrums are widespread scales, and the autistic spectrum is no different. These two adults, both autistic women, have two completely different stories.  The commonality they shared, though, is that all autistic people are different, which means they can benefit from individualized treatment. Therefore, it’s important to support students with autism by providing individualized care that allows them to excel and thrive in the classroom.