April – Special Message
Posted on April 13, 2023
First Nations Education Administrators Association (FNEAA) Board and staff welcome spring with an appreciation of rejuvenation of spirit and the welcoming of new life and new beginnings. FNEAA Board and staff acknowledge that April is Autism Awareness month. Historically, First Nations communities exercise the cultural practice of acceptance of children as they are, with an appreciation for their unique gifts. Children with autism learn at their own pace and set their own boundaries. Recognizing that this can create some challenges within the classroom, First Nations Education Administrators and Directors of Education are encouraged to provide all staff, including non-teaching staff, with professional development, specific to autism spectrum disorders.
Research has confirmed that autism is on the rise in both Canada and the United States with 1 in 43 children being on the spectrum (Cerny, 2023). Of note, if you have met one child with autism, you have met just one child with autism. Children with autism are unique in their development and behaviours; even though some commonalities exist, individualized education and individual behaviour modification plans are essential for each child with autism.
People with autism may have been capable hunter-gatherers with an “autism advantage” that contends autism has compensating benefits, including increased abilities for spatial intelligence, concentration and memory (Reser, 2011).
The following tips and strategies can help First Nation Education Administrators, Directors of Education and educators provide the most effective education for children with autism and their families.
- First and foremost a child with autism is a child. Thus, inclusion in cultural and other activities are essential. Although, language is usually difficult for children with autism, inclusion of Indigenous language vocabulary and phrases (when applicable) should be used with the support of visuals and accommodation of short and direct instruction.
- Recognize and understand the typical behaviours within your community’s language developmental patterns. Some First Nation cultures remain less verbal in communication with children; thus allowing learning primarily by observation and participation. Remaining quiet is a sign of respect. Be mindful not to misinterpret cultural norms as lanuage delays or disorders.
- Like all children, children with autism have strengths and weaknesses. It is essential to work with the family and professional team to build upon the strengths for increased ability to communicate and modify behavior. It is possible for students with autism to increase their academic, social, and communication skills with proper facilitation and consistency from everyone interacting with the child.
- Children on the autism spectrum cannot deal with sensory issues like typical people because their senses tend to provide them with unreliable information. Teachers should become aware of exactly what the sensory issues are for each child with autism. Teachers must know the kinds of sensory issues they are likely to encounter in the classroom and adjust activities or provide supports (such as sound reducing headphones, or reduced class decorations) accordingly.
- Social situations and emotional control are difficult for many children with autism. Time needs to be spent teaching very specific social skills including manners, appropriateness, and making and keeping friends.
- Children with autism often have difficulty processing language and need to be presented information in clear, short direction with visual supports. In addition, children with autism have very creative and unique perspectives that they may have difficulty verbalizing thus other forms of communication should be encouraged and accepted.
- Meltdowns are a result of overstimulation and inability to self-regulate emotion, not an intentional attempt to “act-out”. Allowing children space and time away to process is more effective in behaviour modification than punitive measures.
- Love your students with autism like you would love any other child in your classroom. They are likable, funny, and loving, and will capture your heart.
Tips adapted from:
Cerny, Brittany (2023). “Applied Behaviour Analysis: Program Guide.” https://appliedbehavioranalysisprogram.com
Reser, J. E. (2011). Conceptualizing the autism spectrum in terms of natural selection and behavioral ecology: the solitary forager hypothesis. Evolutionary Psychology, 9(2), 147470491100900209. Retrieved March 17, 2023.