PROGRAMMING

When low functioning non-verbal autistic children enrol in school programs for the first time it is usually at a kindergarten level (age 5) and may very well be their first experiences within a large group setting.  Prior to the child's first day,
it is helpful for the teacher and assistant to meet with the parents to discuss the child's present skill levels in all areas of development, receptive language acquisition, self help skills, family schedules and methods of discipline.

Most low-functioning autistic children require constant 1:1 supervision and assistance during the entire school day.  Many assistants and teachers are overwhelmed by the lack of attending, loud vocalizations, behavioral outbursts and impulsive nature of these children upon arrival to the program.  One of the
most important tasks for the assistant within the first few days, is to observe and record the child's behaviors, social interactions, fine/gross motor skills, intellectual ability and level of self help skills.  These are later assessed to determine appropriate programming goals for the individual child. The individual program plan (IPP) should be developed in cooperation with speech/language therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, behavioral management consultants, school personnel and  parents. Short term goals should be established in relation to long term objectives and programming should be reviewed every three months to determine the effectiveness. It is important to remember that  progress will be extremely slow with subtle changes being seen over several months. Emphasis should be placed on increasing communicative attempts, social interactions, increasing attention span and learning basic life skills.  Consideration must be given to easy access in/out of classrooms which have doors to prevent darting, nearby washroom facilities and appropriate learning materials.  Integration is not always possible at all grade levels, but partial integration is vital.  The program should include both large group settings and individual instruction times.  Having the child participate with peers during gym, singing, short stories, videos, field trips, snack times, recess and a daily partner activity are extremely beneficial for developing social skills. Developmentally appropriate 1:1 instructional tasks, reinforcing activities,  enhanced communication and basic life skills are the main focus within a separate room.

Transitional times are particularly difficult for the autistic child, as noise and
activity levels increase, causing them to become overstimulated.  The assistant
may choose to sing a song, engage in fingerplays, read a short book , rub the
child's back or arm or hold back on joining others during transitional times to reduce anxiety.  A miniature item representative of the next activity can be given to the child to hold during transitional times.

Having a set routine each day provides children with a sense of predictability, security and structure within a given setting.  Routines such as arrival, eating, toileting, handwashing and departure should be carried out in the same way each day.  Upon arrival the child should be taken on a short walk within the school to meet other children and adults.

Communication aids, such as object or schedule boards help to guide the child from one activity to another.  Workbaskets (or see-through containers containing activity materials) may be used in conjunction with these to reinforce the beginning and ending of all activities.

Implementing a communication journal between home and school is vitally
important for program continuity. Daily entries are written by parents and assistants regarding routines and developmental tasks.

When attempting to teach autistic children new tasks, eye contact must be established before the request is given.  Commands must be short and simple, exact behavior identified,  and reinforcements frequently provided.  The assistant should allow 5-10 seconds for a response from the child before prompting.  If prompts are required, they must be according to a hierarchy (verbal, physical, gestural, assisted or hand-over-hand modeling) and faded as soon as possible.
When children have chosen the activity, or are allowed choices while attempting
the task, they are much more receptive to adult requests and intervention.  Some autistic children may fixate over one particular object for extended periods of time, thereby limiting their experiences with other objects and individuals. The
assistant then determines the activities, making use of their favorite item as
positive reinforcement to desired behaviors.

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