April is a time of year when many organizations are celebrating Autism Acceptance Month. In the past the focus for the month has been on Autism Awareness. It is easy to become aware of individuals with autism or other disabilities, but it takes one bigger step to accept individuals who are different than us.
Autism is a developmental disability associated with social, communication, sensory, and behavioral challenges. In the United States, 1 in 54 children is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism is diagnosed more frequently in boys than girls. Children with a diagnosis of autism don’t necessarily look any different than other children in your classroom; however, they may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from other children.
While the diagnosis of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has risen in the US, awareness, understanding and acceptance have not followed suit. One strategy we can use to promote acceptance is to advocate for inclusion so that young children with ASD can fully participate in early childhood settings with their peers. Inclusion encourages us to recognize each child’s unique strengths and talents.
Creating a socially and emotionally safe learning environment in your classroom can foster a sense of inclusion while supporting skill development in young children with ASD. Inclusion has positive benefits for children with and without disabilities. The adaptations that you make for a child on the autism spectrum can also help other children in your classroom. Check out these simple strategies to support young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Reduce Sensory Input
- Include natural light and incandescent lighting in your rooms.
- Let children use sunglasses in the playground.
- Provide noise-reducing headphones when there are large groups of children together.
- Offer alternatives to texture-related activities; such as sponges with knobs, gloves for baking, and markers or crayons instead of paint.
Provide Sensory Breaks
- Create an inviting, quiet area in your room where children can get away for noise, lights, and overstimulating activities.
- Add calming tools such as fidget toys, soft pillows, and weighted animals to your quiet zone.
- Provide small mats or wiggle seats for Circle Time and other large group activities.
- Play music that focuses on positive, uplifting messages (we recommend It Takes a Little Kindness by Bari Koral)
Use Children’s Literature to Promote Understanding and Acceptance
Include picture books in your Library Corner that feature main characters with autism and other disabilities.
- I See Things Differently: A First Look at Autism, by Pat Thomas
- Noah Chases the Wind, by Michelle Worthington
- My Friend Has Autism, by Kaitlyn Duling
While it is important to set aside a month for recognition, for Autism Spectrum Disorder and other disabilities, it is even more important to continuously celebrate differences in all children on a daily basis. Our uniqueness is what makes us special and sets us apart from others. Let’s find a way to celebrate our differences every day!
Check out these online resources for more information and ideas to support young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder:
Kathy Trainor, Ed.D. brings decades of early childhood education experience to her work as an adjunct professor at Arcadia University and currently the Educational Specialist at Becker’s School Supplies. She is a graduate of Arcadia University with an Ed.D. in Special Education and a Master of Arts in Early Education. Prior to teaching in higher education, Kathy was a preschool teacher for over 20 years. Kathy is a mom to five grown children and a grandmother to seven amazing grandchildren who keep her active and smiling every day.