The learning environment requires a variety of tools, materials, and methods. It also requires a comprehensive understanding of your child’s need based on strengths, interests, and qualitative impairments in communication, social understanding, and repetitive behavior and in turn how these impacts his performance, his ability to engage and participate within the educational community and content.
Each child with autism is unique. There is no one standard practice or blanket treatment that will help every child improve. The successful learning environment can address the child’s learning style, does he learn by touch? By doing? By watching? By listening? by smelling and tasting? or any combinations therein. Designing a learning environment around his learning style is one of the key components.
How do I know what his learning style is? Watch him, observe, engage your child in a variety of activities. Take note what he likes or doesn’t like, how long he attends to an activity and what are the activity requirements for engagement. Does the activity facilitate appropriate behavior or do I see an increase in repetitive or undesired behavior is he starting to look more autistic throughout the activity? Is he distracted, staring off into space? If he is beginning to look more autistic the change something you are doing or change the activity altogether.
Make a list of all your child’s interests even if you believe it is something odd like waving a piece of string in the air, picking lint off the carpet, waving and watching paper move, carrying a deck of cards around in his pocket, lining cars or blocks up, shutting cupboard doors.…anything your child seems to like to do, typical or atypical. Write it down, list it, whether it is appropriate or inappropriate.
Next, evaluate his communication performance, his social understanding, and his stereotypical behaviors, and his strengths. What areas need to improve? What areas can have specific target goals? And what do these three areas look like in the learning environment. How do they impede or excel his learning abilities?
Then consider how you can use his interests and strengths as motivation to develop healthy work habits/learning habits and integrate the three target areas for learning for people with ASD; social interactions, communication, and productivity (stereotypical behaviors).
Last but not least is the physical environment…setting the expectations and designing the conditions for learning to occur. Grab notebook and make a list of ten possible motivators and one to three new skills you would like your child to achieve.