Teaching Math To Autistic Children

Teaching Math To Autistic Children

by : Todd Crosner
posted on : 7/25/2013

If you’re a parent of an autistic child, you know how stressful and frustrating it can be watching your child struggle with the simplest of tasks. Not just stressful for you, but also for your family, for siblings, and for your child. In situations where you venture into society with your autistic child, social interactions are likely to be atypical.  As a rule, you learn to expect the unexpected.

That’s because Autism is a complex developmental disability which affects everyone – not only those who regular interact with people who suffer from the disorder, but also society as a whole. In fact, it’s been estimated that Autism costs society over three million dollars per afflicted person over their lifetimes.

Often times, Autistic children are segregated by well intended public school special education programs. However, many of these programs simply aren’t well equipped to handle these children due to lack of resources, lack of funds to properly train teachers, or simply too many children in the classroom.

With Autism on the rise and no cure in sight, it’s important we understand, as teachers and parents, the best way to successfully prepare and educate these students early in their development. The earlier that foundational skills in math and reading can be taught, the stronger and longer lasting the benefits will be. In fact, a 2006 study showed that autistic toddlers who received intense therapy aimed at developing foundational language skills between the ages of 3 to 5 showed huge gains in several developmental areas such as: cognition, language, and social skills including acquisition of useful speech in previously non-verbal children.

Having worked with quite a few autistic children over the years, here are a few personal observations:

  1. Autistic children have a strong desire to learn. They are generally very eager learners, who not only want to succeed, they want to fit in. They need a lot of reassurance. Constant praise is essential in the learning process.
  2. Far more than most children, Autistic children need structure. Social interaction can often be very challenging. Therefore, consistency and repetition in teaching is crucial. Early intervention is vastly preferential and building trust, confidence, and self-esteem is so important.
  3. Never expect an autistic child to be quick to learn verbally. Verbal speech can be extremely tough. Instead, realize that many autistic children learn more rapidly through the use of visual and kinesthetic (hands-on) techniques. Therefore, written communication and physical movement are greatly preferred when teaching. Song, however, seems to be the exception. Many autistic children respond well to song. In fact, some can sing better than they can speak.
  4. Although autistic children tend to learn well through written communication, word problems (sometimes called story problems) can be very difficult. Generally speaking, confusion occurs not only in understanding the problem, but also in what solution it requires. For best results, slow down significantly by reading the problem in parts. Make sure your child (or student) comprehends the important information by asking pertinent questions like “What does it mean when the problem is asking for the sum of the numbers? Do you know what a sum is?” Additionally, make sure they understand which operation is required to solve the problem. Practice is essential – begin with low level problems and gradually work up to tougher ones.
  5. More than most children, children with Autism can be easily bothered by visual distractions. Try to keep your workspace clear of objects which may interfere with the learning process. This could be pencils, pens, calculators, notes, glasses, food and drinks, etc.
  6. Some autistic children possess great memory skills. Others, have poor memory. As teachers, we should never assume an autistic child will remember any teaching lesson, nor should we assume they will forget it. Like any other child, use your experience interacting with that child as a guide into how their mind retains information. Retest important concepts regularly.

As educators and parents, we need to focus on teaching math to autistic children in a way that is consistent with how our student learns. Autistic children generally learn better though patterns. They thrive in one-on-one individualized programs, like those offered at MathRise Learning Centers, where they can build confidence and self-esteem in a non-threatening environment using a pattern-based curriculum. MathRise believes all children can be successful. Its core mission is to help students and families achieve greater levels of prosperity through the joy and understanding of mathematics, reading, and writing.

For more information about MathRise® Learning Centers and its programs, visit www.MathRise.com

Todd Crosner
Founder and CEO of MathRise® Learning Centers

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