COST-EFFECTIVE SCHOOL INITIATIVES FOR AUTISTIC STUDENTS
With the increasing number of high-functioning autistic students being enrolled in basic educational institutions, it has become a challenge for schools to provide a holistic and conducive learning environment for students on the spectrum. A typical school setting is undeniably a field full of hurdles for autistic students, and the daily struggles may include a range of problems. The overcrowded corridor is an overwhelming scenario for students with this disorder, and the class discussions can be very challenging for them due to communication challenges. The food cafeteria may be an unwelcoming place for autistic students who have social aversive behavior, and the school bell, gym lights, and presence of various odors can be easily distracting and irritating for those on the spectrum. While it is the top priority of schools to educate, it is also an integral part of their core responsibilities to see to it that the students are safe from any kind of harm, and are having fun while learning. If you are an educator yourself, you have the great opportunity to raise the concerns about the welfare of autistic students in your school to the administration and its constituents. You can push these initiatives that not only promote the improvement of the quality of education for autistic students but also empower them to become more able students with equal footing as those of their neurotypical classmates and schoolmates.
Hold non-competitive sports events
Autistic individuals have a weak spot in sports-related activities mainly because they have low muscle tone coupled with poor fine and gross motor skills. Part of the school’s initiative must be to let these students realize that they are a part of their community in which they strive to belong, by organizing team-sports that are not competitive in nature. There should be an emphasis put on the non-competitive nature of the sports activities because autistic individuals deal with defeat and competition in a rather negative way. Team sports such as basketball and volleyball may also bring about social and communication issues that can add pressure to the autistic students thereby rendering them less capable than their neurotypical peers. Considering all these factors, the school can hold an autism-friendly version of these sports events, where certain adjustments are made to cater to the participating autistic students. For instance, the volleyball net may be positioned at a lower level than the standard point, and shorter basketball nets are used for basketball games instead of the basic one. At the end of the event, all participating students from all teams should be able to receive a trophy or medal to indicate that they all emerged victors.
Have hands-on exercises more often
For those who are not really into sports activities, the school should be able to provide other alternative activities. Autistic students, especially of younger age, are less interested in oral lectures and class discussions. They are more inclined in doing engaging activities that enable them to investigate and observe things on their own. As such, it would be beneficial for them if the school supports the development of hands-on school programs that allow autistic students to touch, feel, smell and stare at their objects of study, and learn along the process. Art classes that employ mixing of paint and other coloring media can provide a new learning experience for autistic students. The same concept can be applied in cooking practicum where they can prepare ingredients and come up with a finished product that they can taste and enjoy. For a more innovative approach, the school can also sponsor Lego building classes and science experiments.
Provide autism aides if necessary
There are instances when the parents of the autistic student would request the assistance of a professional therapist skilled in Applied Behavioral Analysis or ABA to supervise their child in a classroom setting and help the autistic student gain more skills while becoming less dependent on the aide’s assistance. The school should facilitate the structuring of an ideal setting for the provision of autism aide to be feasible, aside from simply answering to that request. The best way to address this matter is to include the said system in the drafting of the Individualized Education Program or IEP.
Create an oversight board composed of parents and school admin
To improve the assessment and response to school-related problems that are encountered by autistic students such as bullying, it is encouraged that the school should form a committee composed of both parents and school staff that will be tasked to review these matters and come up with the best solution. With the parents being able to directly communicate with the school, families of autistic students will be given a greater opportunity to raise their concerns and even initiate programs that will promote the welfare of autistic students in the campus.
Organize autistic-exclusive parties and events
Knowing that many autistic students are often deprived of social interaction, it is common for them to get left out in social gatherings and skip important events like school dances and fairs, even though they really want to join in the fun and enjoy the events too. As such, it would be a good initiative of the school to sponsor similar events that are exclusive to autistic students. This may be in a form of a movie night, video game fest, card and board game day, and similar other activities where they can share their interests, try to understand each other’s behavior and attempt to socialize in their own ways.
Support autistic students in joining student clubs and organizations
With the current legal rulings that aim to provide autistic students equal rights to join or participate in school clubs and organizations as much as their neurotypical counterparts, autism communities are seeing a bigger ray of hope in their advocacy. However, it still goes down to how effective the school is in implementing these rulings in their whole studentry. Discrimination against autistic students should be discouraged and sanctions should be imposed to violators of these policies.