Becoming an autistic support teacher is one of the most rewarding options for aspiring teachers. The rate of diagnosis of autism has been rising. In the United States, nearly 2% of children are diagnosed with a disorder somewhere on the spectrum. Autism is complex and often only vaguely understood, and it takes a particular set of skills and personality traits to be a successful autistic support teacher. These five characteristics are essential for anyone considering this path.
The best autistic support teachers are able to adapt to fluid circumstances. Each school year brings a new set of students, and the needs of individual students with autism vary widely. Some children will be fast learners, while others will have cognitive difficulties and need to be provided with the opportunity to learn at a slower pace. Some children with autism have severe behavioral problems as a result of the inability to express their emotions in a healthy way. Autism support teachers need to be able to respond to outbursts with compassion on a moment’s notice.
Most children have filters on their perception which block out irrelevant noise, allowing them to focus on the signal. Autism weakens this filter, and so children with autism often need a highly structured, predictable learning environment so that they will not be overly distracted by the unexpected. Autistic support teachers must have particularly strong organizational skills in order to compensate for the fact that a special education classroom has some unpredictability built in. Each set of students calls for a unique learning structure. Teachers need to be skilled at developing structures tailored to those unique needs.
Communication is one of the greatest challenges for children with autism. Some children are entirely nonverbal, and many have limited use of language. But each child has a complex world of emotions that needs to be acknowledged and accounted for, according to the Huffington Post. The most effective autistic support teachers have an exceptionally developed ability to pick up on nonverbal cues. Even if a child with autism is unable to put her feelings into words, she will express them unconsciously with body language and facial expressions. Perceptive teachers will become attuned to the ways that various emotions and needs manifest themselves in each individual child.
Even if children with autism were always able to communicate verbally with ease, they still experience the world in a fundamentally different way than the average person does. Children with autism will become angry, upset, or restless at times when there is no obvious reason. Autistic support teachers not only need to be able to determine the causes, but they need to be able to feel the children’s emotions with them, even if the teachers cannot relate directly. Children with autism have just as much of a need for emotional companionship as anyone, and many have a difficult time meeting this need when surrounded by people who are so different from them.
5. Strong Support System
Each psychologist needs his own psychologist, and the same principle applies for autistic support teachers. Teaching children with autism is a job that requires a high degree of emotional investment, and often the emotions that the children experience are difficult. The work is rewarding for this exact reason. But teachers have to be able to persevere without becoming frustrated or discouraged when they see students who have been making progress reverting back to old habits. Ideally, autistic support teachers have others in the same profession who understand the particular challenges they face and on bad days can reaffirm their belief that success stories are possible.
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Working with autistic students is a difficult profession that requires patience and skill. But for those willing to put a high degree of emotional investment into their work, there are few career paths more rewarding than becoming an autistic support teacher.