The rising numbers of students with autism in public schools and the increased attention autism receives in the mainstream media further highlights the importance of student education about the disorder. OAR’s newest resource, the Kit for Kids, is a tool created to help bridge the understanding gap among school children and their classmates with autism. It is now available for use in elementary and middle school classrooms. Learn more about the Kit.
Why Teach about Autism?
As separate OAR-funded research studies by Dr. Audrey Blakeley-Smith and Drs. Campbell and Barger described elsewhere in this newsletter indicate, from an early age, kids observe their peers and are curious about anything or anyone that appears different like autism or a classmate with the diagnosis. They sense when someone is different. Unfortunately, without the difference being understood, children often associate different with bad. That is why it is important to educate kids about autism.
Teaching kids about autism prepares them for the idiosyncrasies associated with this disability. When kids understand that communication deficits and stereotypic behavior are more a result of autism rather than chosen behavior, they are more likely to think positively of their classmate.
Who Should Use This Kit?
This kit is designed to be presented by elementary and middle school students to their classmates. Ideally, it would be used in support of a school-wide autism awareness program in every classroom, even those without students who have autism. Its intent is to start the discussion, inform at a basic level, and help eliminate myths and misunderstanding about autism. By educating students early about autism they will be better prepared to view their student peers with autism as just another kid and perhaps someone worth getting to know.
Keep in mind:
It is intended for all classes, not just those that have a student with autism.
Do not assume anything about disclosure or identifying students with autism. Remember, children (and their parents) may not be comfortable with the idea of a more public disclosure. Do not put the child with autism in the spotlight or use the child as an example unless that is something fully coordinated with the student and parents.
If you are worried about confidentiality, speak with the parents of the student with autism. Students may indirectly associate a peer with having autism after the lesson. Speak with the parents of the student with autism about this concern.
Using the Kit for Teachers
For the teacher incorporating this information into the curriculum or assisting a student presenter, these tips will help make the best use of the kit.
- Select a student whom other peers look up to and ask her or him privately if she or he would like to help teach a short lesson about autism and autism awareness. You may want to work with other classes to identify a group of students to become peer teachers. These students can lead the lesson in other classes. You may also want to train a group of students to lead the lesson for students in lower grades.
- If the student or student group agrees to teach the lesson, give them the materials to take home and share with their parents. This gives parents an opportunity to discuss any concerns or reservations they may have about their child leading such a lesson.
- Review the materials with the peer teachers and rehearse the presentations.
- Have the student lead the lesson in his or her class, another class, or to a small group.
- For younger students, you may choose to lead the lesson or ask an older student in the school to act as the guest teacher.
- Place the poster on a wall in your classroom that is easy for students to access. The poster works as a reminder that while kids with autism may seem very different, they also have a lot of strengths.
Using the Kit for Parents
Parents are ideal and well-practiced advocates for raising autism awareness within schools. These steps will guide parents in ways to introduce the kit in schools their children attend.
- Contact your child’s teacher or the school guidance counselor to introduce and recommend this resource.
- If the school is interested in using the resource, be sure to address any matters related to disclosure as they might pertain to your child or any other child with autism in the school. Your child may not be comfortable with being singled out as a student with autism.
- Your child’s sibling may want to present the lesson to his or her class or he or she may feel uncomfortable. Discuss this with your child. Also discuss the possible benefits for your child of teaching classmates about autism.
- Talk with your child about the lesson so she or he knows it is to teach kids about autism and not about singling her or him out as different. You may want to include information about the lesson in your classroom communication with parents so all of the parents are aware of the lesson.
This kit is a first step for creating an inclusive classroom environment. To receive OAR’s free Kit for Kids, contact Allison Gilmour at 703-243-9762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.