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How to keep an autistic child focused in the classroom
Improving Classroom Focus for Students with Autism
As summer winds down, teachers all over the country are preparing their classrooms for the beginning of a new school year. To create the best learning environment for all their students, they must take every child’s individual needs into consideration. This is especially true when it comes to students on the autism spectrum.
Students with autism face unique challenges in the classroom. They can be overactive, lack focus and sometimes cause disruption to others due to their behavior. This doesn’t have to be the case, though. With careful planning, autistic students can learn right alongside their classmates with ease.
So how can teachers keep students on the spectrum engaged and focused in the classroom? Let’s take a look.
Working Together With Parents
Talking with the parents of the autistic student entering the class is the most important step in creating an effective environment for that child. Find out what difficulties they’ve faced and then devise a plan for addressing those concerns. Once you know more about your students from the people who know them best, you’ll be better prepared for the school year ahead.
And for parents, keep in mind that learning doesn’t stop once the school bell rings. What is applied at school should also be applied at home as well as during outings and playtime. This is especially true for kids who use communication devices (books or electronic) and need reinforcement to learn items used both in the school group and the home group.
Making Seating Arrangements
Because some students with autism start out with focus problems, finding a place to sit where distractions are at a minimum is important. Hallway noise, open windows and dynamic wall displays can keep an autistic child’s focus from the lesson at hand. Seating the child close to a sensory area where they can go for calming may help them relax, boosting focus. Sitting next to an understanding child who might provide a helping hand can also have a profound effect on helping them stay on task.
While most people don’t think of sitting as “active,” adding some wiggle or bounce to how someone sits can have a drastic effect on how they focus on seated activities. Active seating options like exercise ball and wobble chairs have kept working adults engaged for years now. So why not bring some active seating into a learning environment?
A kid-sized ball chair, wobble stool or air cushion can be great additions to any classroom. Along with improved posture and increased blood flow, they provide the constant motion some children with autism need to be more attentive. We’ll cover some great active seating options in more detail in a later blog post, so consider subscribing to our newsletter or blog to stay up-to-date.
Foot and Finger Fidgets
Some students always have to be doing something, whether they’re tapping their foot, pumping their leg or drumming their fingers. This kind of activity can be disruptive for classmates and the instructor, but necessary for the fidgety child to stay engaged.
Active seating can solve some of these issues, but it can be quite a drain on a classroom budget. Foot and finger fidgets can provide some of the same focus and calm as active seating at a more agreeable price. An exercise band around the legs of the chair can also be an option for kids with active feet. These items allow a student the foot or finger activity they crave so that they can pay attention in class in a less disruptive way.
Weighted Lap Pads
For other fidgety students, some gentle pressure in the form of a weighted lap pad can go a long way in increasing attention span and focus. The stimulus provided by that pressure calms nervous muscles, making it easier for a child to sit still and learn. Like foot and finger fidgets, they’re also low-key and don’t call attention to the child’s focus issues.
Classroom Lighting Filters
Some aspects of fluorescent lights a negative effect on learning and productivity for almost everyone, and especially for kids on the spectrum. Adding diffusive filters to those lights can end their harsh flicker and glare, creating a more relaxed classroom for all students, not just those with autism.
Focusing on the Classroom
We’d love to hear more tips from teachers and instructors who work with children with autism every day. What works and what doesn’t in your classrooms? What items or techniques have you tried that were particularly effective? How have you approached some of your more difficult challenges? Share your tips and stories in the comments below!
Photo Credit: “after view of my classroom” by LizMarie_AK, used under CC BY / Cropped from original
Important Strategies that Can Help Autistic Kids in the Classroom
“If a child cannot learn in the way we teach…we must teach in a way the child can learn.”
Let me begin with sharing a piece of a conversation I had while working with a differently-abled child:
Colleague: “Miss, whenever you find the time, please meet me. ” Me: “Sure.” Child: “Miss, I can really help you.” Me: “Go ahead.” Child: “I can help you find the time. There it is!” (pointing to the clock on the wall)
The look in the child’s eyes cannot be explained in words.
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We can look at this behavior as “intentional,” or “being funny,” or “disrespectful,” and the list is endless, but we need to stop and understand what autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is before we jump to conclusions. All it requires to understand is a little sensitivity, acceptance, understanding, willingness, and change of mindset.
ASD is a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. People with ASD handle information differently than other people, such as limited verbal language, intense self-stimulatory behaviors such as hand-flapping, under-reactions to pain and over-reactions to sounds, very good gross motor skills, and weaknesses in fine motor skills. These symptoms may vary widely from person to person, as no two individuals are alike.
Observed behaviors, which might be seen as simple “naughtiness” or “non-compliance,” may in fact have a range of other meanings for a child with autism. This behavior may in fact be the child’s only way of indicating a need: for help or attention, to escape from stressful situations, of obtaining desired objects, of demonstrating his/her lack of understanding, of protesting against unwanted events, or of gaining stimulation. Having said this, the need to interact with them is also different.
Behavior Management in the Classroom and at Home
Here are some strategies I have used from time to time to help children reach their potential in the classroom or at home. Behavior management is a very important component and needs as much intervention as academics or classroom management. It’s important to:
Provide a very clear structure and a set of daily routine (including for play).
Use clear language. Avoid humor/irony, or phrases like “my feet are killing me” or “it’s raining cats and dogs,” which may cause bewilderment.
Make clear (including with a firm “no”) which behaviors are unacceptable.
Avoid sentences like “Would you like to do this?” or “Why did you do that?” It is always more beneficial to give a child some choices.
Address the child individually at all times or by using alerting cues such as “Everyone and (child’s name), please put your notebooks away.”
Keep visual timetables, which are a great resource for helping a child stay organized.
Recognize changes in manner or behavior may reflect anxiety or stress, such as talking loudly, pacing the room up and down, flapping hands, or collar biting (which may be triggered by a change to routine). It is very important to identify the triggers and address them.
Calm with mindfulness or breathing exercises.
Utilize sensory inputs such as playing with a sensory ball or squeeze ball, trampoline jumping, and rocking, which are all behaviors that may help calm.
Classroom situations with children with autism can be overwhelming at times; however, success is possible if you plan and utilize strategies. The Golden Rule is not to do something once or twice, but consistently for things to fall in place.
Ways to Help ASD Children in a Learning Environment
Here are some strategies to aid teachers and parents when working with children with autism:
Give prompts (key words) for a child to get started with a writing piece. Be prepared that it may take two to three drafts before it is complete. Highlight the important keywords to help the student stay on topic.
Increase font size and allow more spacing (with less clutter) to help the child understand the content better and improve focus.
Use an edit wheel which outlines the basics of writing to provide a checklist to the student for punctuation (using capitals for start of sentence or name of place, person, full stop, neat work, etc. ).
Provide two to three choices to foster independence, but not too many so that it leads to confusion.
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Strive for quality rather than quantity. Smaller assignments broken down over chunks of time can help the child stay calm and focused.
Make positive comments such as “It’s going well,” “You’re doing fine,” and “Well done.” Kids with autism need the boost in self-esteem.
Provide a movement break for three to five minutes to help the child recover. Sometimes children experience sensory overload with so many things happening around them.
Talk about any impending adjustment in the daily schedule, such as a change of route while travelling or special events in school. A message can also be sent to the parents to prompt them to talk with the child and prepare for change.
Use alerting cues such as “This is important” to help a child focus at the right time. Some other ways can be to signal that someone has to answer, use the child’s name, stand close and pat, or walk around the classroom.
Help the child develop eye contact, if possible. However, do not insist as some children with autism find it difficult to focus visually and auditory at the same time.
Keep the instructions simple and concrete. Reading between the lines can be a challenge.
Reward attention and timely accomplishments, even if it not the standard of a class. Children need to have a sense of achievement.
Place the child at the front of the classroom, or at the back if they are sensitive to touch.
Give one direction at a time. Multiple instructions can be too much for the child to handle. Quietly repeat directions to him/her after they have been given to the rest of the class.
Use a variety of materials and mediums as this not only helps a child with autism, but can be stimulating for all.
Complete a task analysis, which means a check or prompt to ensure the child is on track and to ensure tasks are manageable and within the child’s attention span.
Check the child’s understanding and have him/her repeat or rephrase instructions as necessary. Children with autism can misinterpret body language and abstract language.
Practice newly acquired skills in different settings in order to foster generalization of that skill.
Minimize distracting material like extra pens, colors, iPads, or laptops (if not required for work). Less clutter is often better. Create an individual work area or a concentration corner.
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Undoubtedly, this is easier said than done; however, it is not impossible. It is a learning process while understanding children with autism. There is no fixed strategy that will work as no two individuals are alike. So true, but mostly forgotten. We have all been trying to fit the child in the curriculum rather than making the curriculum suit the child’s needs.
Each child with autism brings different abilities, challenges, and self-esteem issues. I firmly believe that if we nurture, it will make a positive impact on the child and learning in a big way. All it requires is sensitivity, patience, self-reflection, introspection, and a proactive approach with lots of positivity and understanding.
This article was featured in Issue 66 – Finding Calm and Balance
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Can a child with autism study in a regular school and how to help him with this
In order to teach a child with autism, the teacher must be aware of all his characteristics and prepare in advance. And sometimes prepare other children in the class. Elina Vinokurova talked with clinical psychologist Tatyana Morozova about how to organize the education of children with autism, including in a regular school, and where teachers can look for quality information on the topic.
As far as I understand, if a child does not have a severe form of autism, then he and his parents can come to any Russian school and say: "I will study here." But teachers may not be ready for this at all, especially in the provinces. How it works?
Usually there is a psychological-pedagogical or some other center in the region that can provide methodological support to teachers. After all, a child can come to school not only with autism, but also with visual, hearing, and motor disabilities. There is no economic sense in having a specialist for each of these features of development in the school. Therefore, in each region there should be some group of people who, if a child with special needs, for example, with autism, appears at school, can help teachers.
Tatyana Morozova, clinical psychologist, Naked Heart Foundation expert
Roughly speaking, the director must know who to call.
Yes. Accordingly, if a child needs a tutor, he must come from somewhere. If the child is without a tutor, someone should do the preparatory work with the teacher or several teachers. Because even if this is a first grader, in addition to the main teacher, he also has a music teacher and a physical education teacher. Someone should tell what communication system the child uses, what features of information processing, behavior, and so on. Let's assume that such a modification of the curriculum is possible, when all children answer questions orally, and a child with ASD (with an autism spectrum disorder) answers in a different way. For example, on a specially designed response sheet. In general, the teacher will need special assistance in order to enable the student to express his knowledge.
Children with autism are very different. But are there any basic things that teachers need to know in order to understand them a little better?
Of course, you can read about autism and learn some general things, but it is better to learn about the characteristics of a particular child from parents. Because if we take the standard ideas about a person with autism, then we find out that he can not look into the eyes, not talk, react sharply to sounds. In big statistics, everything is so, but at the same time, a particular child can look into the eyes and respond perfectly to the school bell - he will have different, his own characteristics. He may not understand humor or be hard to bear when there are a lot of unusual smells around. Another person can be visually overtired, so sometimes he needs to close his eyes and be alone. Or he likes to talk about certain topics. On the one hand, this can be distracting, and on the other hand, you can use this area of special interest as something through which you can motivate a person. For example, if all children learn to count on sticks, and this child is madly in love with space, why can't he count the stars?
Does the teacher or staff need to work with the class before a child with autism comes in?
Research shows that the attitude towards a special child, no matter what developmental features he has, depends very much on the attitude of adults. If an adult child accepts, does not belittle his capabilities, if the parents of other children do not call such a child offensive words behind his eyes, then children perceive him much better.
Should I tell the whole class about the child's characteristics? You can do this: gather the most enterprising children and conduct a little special training with them. To do this, there are programs by which you can teach ordinary peers to better build a dialogue with an unusual child. They say that there is a child with autism, he sometimes reacts a little differently. For example, he may be frightened by loud noises (school bells) and therefore begin to scream or plug his ears. We talk about its features and ask: "Who is ready to help Vasya, because it is more difficult for him when it's loud or when it's noisy?" For example, five children are called and we teach them how to communicate with a person with autism. For example, when talking to a child with autism, try to allow time to process the information.
A child with autism understands everything, but he needs a little more time to answer
Or we say that a person with autism notices so many things that sometimes it is easier to speak to him in short phrases so that it is easier for a person to process information. Such approaches are known, described and quite effective.
What to do in a situation when the director talked to everyone, everyone is ready to accept this child, but the parents of other children come and start complaining: “Why do you pay so much attention to some Petya? And who will teach my Vasya?!”
Legislation provides for equal rights to children's education, so this is primarily a legal issue. All children have the right to schooling, but if a child with autism needs more educational support, then the issue of a tutor should be considered. This will help both the child with developmental disabilities, and the teacher, and the child's classmates. If a child cannot learn like everyone else, for example, solves a problem only if someone is standing next to him, then he has a special educational need that must be met.
Is the school required to provide a tutor to a student if they have such a need?
Under the law, this works a little differently. A tutor is considered a special educational service, which is prescribed by the Psychological-Medical-Pedagogical Consultation (PMPC). This usually happens not in September, but in the spring, when classes and budgets are being recruited for the next academic year. Suppose now we are deciding how much pedagogical support we will need with new children from September. And the child comes with the conclusion of the PMPK, which prescribes a tutor. The school management knows in advance that they need to do something. If the family comes and asks for a tutor in September, and he is really needed there, then it will be much more difficult for the school. There are situations when the family and the school slightly overestimate the capabilities of the child: the period of adaptation passes (the first quarter), and everyone understands that the child cannot cope on his own. You have to look for a tutor already during the school year, but still it should be through some kind of official conclusion.
Are there any peculiarities of the adaptation of a child with autism in primary or secondary school?
In grade 1, the process of adaptation is important, the adoption of all school rules: when they stand up, when they are silent, when they speak, when they raise their hand. It turns out that in the lower grades we teach a very large number of pre-academic things. In high school, it is important to be able to maintain relationships with peers.
We must learn to communicate with them, maintain a dialogue, be sure to prevent possible bullying from classmates
We need to look at this quite seriously, because the child may not complain if he is bullied.
If children with autism in the 1st grade need to learn the rules of the intra-school routine, then in secondary school additional classes may be needed to develop social skills: how to get to know each other, what places people can be touched, what places they can’t, what topics can be discussed, what which ones are not possible. Ordinary people understand what is customary to say and what is not. But a child with autism with a perfectly intact intellect may not understand that there are things that can be thought, but at the same time it is completely impossible to say out loud. For example, if a teacher wears a large size of clothes, then you might think that the person is overweight, but it’s better not to talk about it out loud. Or what topic you can talk about with girls or with boys, or with adults, and what topic is better not to talk about. How to ask for a date, how many times you can send a text message to a girl when you invite her on a date. We had a case: a young man with autism asked his curator-consultant “How much can you send SMS?”. He was asked: "How much have you sent yet?" He replied: "452 sms".
There are questions that, of course, are better to be taught at an early age, but sometimes you have to teach both middle and high school students. For example, what is adequate social distance. There are familiar people to whom we approach at the distance of an outstretched elbow and can hug and kiss. And there are less familiar people, we shake hands with them, and the social distance at the same time is an outstretched hand.
If a teacher starts working with children with autism and realizes they want to learn more about it, where can they get the information?
There are so many things on the Internet these days. Some of the information is reliable, and some is outdated, filled with myths. I usually recommend the resources that are on the website of the Vykhod charity foundation. The website of the Naked Heart Foundation also has a lot of information, for example, recordings of lectures by world-class specialists. On these sites, you can find information about both teaching classmates and how to teach social skills. There you can find materials on how to talk about hygiene, how to talk about sex, how to explain what social distance is.
I know that children with autism can be rewarded for completing a task. But, for example, there is such a person in the classroom. They give him candy for solving the example, while the other 29 children do not. How to be here?
When we talk about sweets, we either mean a person who is much younger, or a person who has rather severe features. Because inclusion assumes that the child has already gone through some kind of academic path and begins to be interested in social reinforcement. That is, the child is ready to work for delayed rather than instant reinforcement. It is clear that a teacher who works with 30 children cannot give out a candy every time for every raised hand or every solved example. And most often, children who are in a class without tutor support should be on the self-monitoring system, when they themselves note completed tasks and are able to ask teachers to check their work.
Can parents be in the classroom with their child or is it harmful?
A school is a school, parents have a completely different role and a different system of relationships with the child. School and an inclusive class are still the ability to study in a group of children, so the presence of parents cannot be useful a priori. I understand that this may be the only possibility in places where there are no opportunities, and the situation is such that either the child goes to school with his parents, or he will simply be kicked out.
But if possible, the parent does not need to be present at the lesson. The child should listen to the teacher in the lesson, not the parent. Parents should have their own personal lives, they can work or not work - this is their own business. But the school is built in such a way that the teacher teaches the child. If he cannot yet study in a group, then it is necessary not to deprive the parents of work, but to give the child tutor support. A tutor is not a person who distracts a child and whispers something in his ear. This is a person who creates such conditions so that the child can study at school with a teacher.
Where to learn more about autism:
Special Translations is a site with translations of materials about children with special needs, most of the articles are devoted to children with autism.
"Resource Center" - a section on the website of the Naked Heart Foundation, which contains video lectures and presentations by leading experts in child development.
"Center for Curative Pedagogics" - the center's website has a lot of useful information about children with developmental disabilities.
The meeting with Tatyana Morozova took place during the International Conference "Effective Technologies in the Education of Children with ASD", which was held from April 2 to 4 in Nizhny Novgorod. The organizer of the conference is the Naked Heart Charitable Foundation, which has been helping children with developmental disabilities since 2004.
Photo: lessons at school No. 56 in Nizhny Novgorod, where children with autism study
What school teachers need to know about autism - CWF
School teachers about autism
Ukraine has joined the global trend towards inclusion. The result was a rule on the mandatory organization of conditions for children with special educational needs in ordinary schools. This means that children with various disorders, including disabilities, have the right to study in general education schools, and the state guarantees the creation of the necessary conditions - everyday, technical, methodological, and pedagogical. And if the arrangement of a sensory room or a ramp is often a matter of funding, then a particular school is responsible for the quality of staff and the organization of the learning process. How to teach a "special" child and what does a teacher need to know in order to achieve success?
Signs of autism, or what the teacher deals with at school
The appearance of a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a serious challenge for the teacher and children in the classroom. The manifestations of autism are varied, but even with a high-functioning disorder, the teacher will have to spend a lot of effort on teaching, finding an approach to the “special” child, as well as working with children and parents for whom autism is a strange and unknown concept.
According to the international classification of diseases ICD-10, there are:
early childhood autism;
Each type has its own characteristics, but among the key characteristics of the disorder are: difficulties in establishing contact with others, detachment and isolation from the outside world, behavioral stereotyping and narrowness of personal interests. An autistic person is emotionally closed, self-centered and does not show a desire to communicate with people.
Therefore, the teacher is one should prepare for "surprises" in the process of learning:
The behavior of an autistic person differs from neurotypical. A child with ASD may attempt to cope with sensory input such as rocking, chewing on a pencil, turning an object in their hands, covering their ears with their hands, or occasionally vocalizing. Change at school is the most difficult time for an autistic person, because everywhere is noisy, there is no order and there are a lot of people around. Most autistic people are overwhelmed by this environment, and they "withdraw into themselves", recuperating and coping with overload. In the presence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such a child needs the opportunity to move around.
Some autistics also do not understand that the teacher's address to the class applies to them as well. Children with ASD have perceptual problems: they often take information literally, they need extra time to respond to a request or task. Therefore, from the outside, such a feature may look like rudeness or ignoring the teacher.
Features of intellectual development . Nonlinear intellectual development is often observed in children with ASD. They perceive visual material well, focus on details, remember large amounts of information - for example, the names of the capitals of all countries in the world or a paragraph on biology. However, it is difficult for a child with autism to grasp the meaning of what is read or to draw conclusions from the story told, which leads to problems with understanding tasks and task conditions. Most autistics have a special interest (something that is very exciting) in which a child with ASD can know everything. Outside of a special interest, knowledge is scarce, because time and effort are spent only on the area of hobbies. This is also related to the peculiarity of autistic thinking: if there is no clear understanding of why something is being taught or done, children with ASD will not want to do it.
For inexperienced teachers who encounter an autistic child for the first time, this causes alertness, anxiety, and sometimes irritation. However, such behavior is not the result of the child's disrespect for the teacher or pedagogical neglect - it is autism, the symptoms of which are unusual for the teacher.
How and what to teach an autistic person
There is no single approach or methodology in teaching a child with ASD. Autistic people differ in the level of development of social skills, speech, and the ability to absorb material. The school curriculum is adapted to the capabilities and characteristics of the development of a particular child, taking into account the recommendations of the Inclusive Resource Center (IRC), and as it "moves" forward, adjustments are made. This means that the standards, pace, evaluation criteria will also differ from the generally accepted ones. However, there are autistic people who successfully master the school curriculum. They only need social or sensory support, such as making friends with classmates or having a quiet room to go to rest when needed.
There are no special textbooks for autistics, as well as school programs: children study according to one general education program, and children with ASD follow the recommendations of the IRC .
Adapts "standard" school assignments in the classroom that are not available to a child with ASD, child's assistant (tutor). His tasks include accompanying a child with ASD and assistance in learning - modification of the tasks of the general education program to adapt them to the capabilities of an autistic person. For example, preparing additional visual materials, reducing, simplifying or eliminating tasks that are not yet available. The tutor also involves a child with ASD in the work of the whole class, for example, in an oral survey of students, when an autistic person is asked on an equal basis with neurotypical children, but within the limits of the material available to him.
A child's assistant is a kind of "translator" of the language of the general program into the language of an autistic person, taking into account his individual characteristics, which accompanies the child's education at school and is physically with him there. The task of the tutor is to become unnecessary, that is, to teach a child with ASD to be independent, gradually fading into the background. Today, the child's assistant (tutor) is provided by the parents. The teacher at the school must definitely establish contact with the tutor, discuss the organization of the educational process and ways to solve the difficulties that are likely to arise.
The teacher of the inclusive class is recommended to use the following techniques in teaching a child with ASD :
Motivation. Properly selected rewards help to keep the autistic person's interest in the educational material, to better assimilate it and to cooperate with other children in the classroom. Children with ASD are difficult to motivate with grades or praise, as is the case with neurotypical children. They like medals, tokens, diplomas, cups for a completed task or for diligence at the end of a quarter. The best motivation for an autistic person is a special interest, but there are nuances in this matter. First, classmates also want a “special” reinforcement system. Secondly, an autistic person may become accustomed to the fact that any completed task or task leads to a reward, and this complicates development in the future. The reward system should be designed to ensure that, ultimately, the child with ASD is satisfied with emotional praise or encouragement. Only a highly qualified specialist can achieve such a result, and there are only a few such specialists in Ukraine.
Visualization and modeling. Most autistic people are visual. Visual examples of the right actions (for example, show how to raise your hand in class), timetable and homework on the board, cards depicting the sequence of actions - these tools help to better memorize and master the necessary skills. Moreover, it is an excellent communication tool with a non-speaking child.
Accounting for the peculiarities of perception . To concentrate the attention of a child with ASD, conditions are created under which nothing distracts. If an autistic person can't stand bright lights, why not let them sit in class with tinted glasses? Or touching the rosary to reduce anxiety? You can also let a child with ASD walk quietly around the classroom during class to relieve tension.
What results to expect
The effectiveness of inclusive education for a particular child with ASD depends on the cooperation of all participants in the process - teachers, tutors, administration and parents, as well as the class (children and their parents). If the family does not talk about the needs of the child, then the teacher will not be able to help the autistic person, prevent situations that will lead to a tantrum or a nervous breakdown.
In order to avoid the "swan, cancer and pike" condition and not make the school unbearable for autistic, it is important for the parties to accept the child's disorder and learn to interact with each other. Parents need to tell the teacher as much as possible about the characteristics of the child, her perception, communication skills, and also be interested in school affairs, communicate with other parents, continue corrective work with speech pathologists, psychologists, etc. Parents must bring the child to school in advance - for example, a year earlier, so that he was like lessons, got to know the building and the teachers. It is important for teachers to undergo special training for working with autistic children, read literature, attend seminars that are available today, sincerely want to understand and help, follow the rules of communication for a sustainable result. After all, what is good for autistic children is good for other children in the class.
However, don't overestimate your expectations. It is necessary to realistically assess the strengths and capabilities of the child. As autistics age, they learn self-regulation and social masking skills, so that visible signs of autism may “flatten out” or disappear altogether.