TEACHERS’ TIPS FOR MONITORING AUTISTIC STUDENTS IN FIELD TRIPS
For neurotypical students, field trips can be on the list of their school life’s most memorable experiences. Through excursion activities, students are able to take a break from the standard classroom setting and become immersed in a new environment in a fun-filled tour experience with their classmates. They will wander in a new place they’ve never been before, see exciting things for the first time, and learn more about the real world as they begin to build its connection to their classroom discussions. For autistic students, however, the very prospect of exploring new things can be a frightening context to think about. This journey to the unknown can easily make autistic students anxious and trigger their autism response. When their daily routine is disrupted by extracurricular activities such as a school trip, autistic students can be overwhelmed by this change in their schedule and react to it negatively. They may exhibit aversive behaviors that can lead them to wander off, disobey instructions, and trigger a meltdown which can affect the overall course of the planned field trip. While you may think it’s for the best that your autistic student will not participate in the said field trip, it is most likely inappropriate to exclude them from joining such activity due to the existence of enacted laws and school regulations that discourage discrimination of students in all forms. Needless to say, the responsibility of ensuring the welfare of your autistic students and their neurotypical classmates ultimately falls to you as the teacher who will be there with them throughout the duration of the whole trip. Here are the things that you need to do to guarantee that your field trip is a successful activity for the whole class.
- The planning for the field trip should be set at an advanced date. This is to ensure that you’ve given the parents and the autistic students ample time to prepare. You can introduce the plan of having a field trip during the earliest PTA meeting so you can hand out the permission forms personally to the parents. This way you can come up with safety measures and common understanding as to the do’s and don’ts during the field trip. After discussing the plan with the parents, you can then set up a schedule in your class calendar and remind your students about it from time to time.
- To make the activity more interesting for your autistic student, you can discuss in the class the exciting things that you will do during the field trip, simulate some parts, and provide specific visual scenarios. This will help lessen the student’s anxiety while waiting for the day of the field trip to finally arrive. Check out if the place you’re visiting has a website and then look for virtual tours if there are any. You can then share what you’ve found to the whole class.
- Train the autistic student to act appropriately in different social scenarios during the field trip and be more flexible with their responses when there are changes to the plans. Emphasize the importance of waiting for their turn, choosing their bus seat, partaking their lunch or snacks in an open space, and interacting with the whole class outside of the classroom. There will be scenarios that will appear new to the autistic student, so be sure that you’ve given the reassurance that everything will be fine if they just follow your instructions.
- Field trips are often composed of a set of activities which are scheduled in specific time intervals. There is a great chance that your students will be fully occupied with one activity and would want to spend more time in that exercise. If your autistic student is experiencing the same enthusiastic feeling or interest in one activity, they might respond adversely to your instruction of proceeding to the next activity. In order to avoid overstaying in one part of the field trip plan, clarify to your students the need to transition to the next part of the activity due to time constraints. Inform them about the maximum amount of time they’ll be allowed to spend in each activity with the help of a good field trip program you’ve created. That way, the autistic student can be more prepared to handle their fascination in certain parts of the trip.
- If the autistic student raises their concern on the mode transportation and prefers to get to the field trip location on their family car or other means, you can allow the student to do so. However, you have to communicate with the family in this regard to avoid any miscommunication. As much as possible, tell the family to be on time, if not ahead of the class, on the destination so there will be no inconvenience in the schedule.
- If your field trip includes engaging with different personalities, introduce them to the class ahead of time. You may use pictures to help the autistic child get familiarized with these new faces, aside from providing their name and their role in the field trip. May they be resource persons, tour guides, or security personnel, it is important that you leave nobody unintroduced to your class.
- Make sure that there’s little to no sensory variables in the field trip location to minimize the chances of setting off the autistic student’s sensory issues. Factors such as noise, overall temperature, smell, and brightness must be taken into consideration in planning the field trip. If such factors cannot be minimized, prepare the necessary calming and sensory minimizing tools for your autistic student.
- If the class size is big that you are not really confident that you can monitor everyone’s presence on your own observation, do not forget to recheck the class number after every activity. Tell your students to fall in line and count off their pile, while you do the same. If needed, do the counting more than just once to make sure nobody is left behind, especially the autistic student. You can also ask your students if someone is missing, as they know who’s in which group in a buddy system.