Your child is expected to become more independent in middle school but this can be challenging for children with autism who find it difficult to organize themselves. The Indiana Resource Center for Autism, a project run by Indiana University, cites both clinical and anecdotal evidence that children with autism spectrum disorders respond well to visual schedules. Parents can use objects, pictures or written steps depending on the child's strengths, and recent technology has given us smartphone and tablet apps that might be more convenient than traditional tools.
Children with autism often start with object schedules because they require no language skills and can help them associate each object with an activity. As a parent volunteer, you may be able to help out in the classroom to introduce these tools for a smoother transition. During school, a teacher or aide gives the object to the student as a way of cuing the next action. For example, the teacher might hand the student a spoon when it is time for lunch or a ball when it's time for PE. Place objects on a surface in sequence so the student can monitor his schedule independently by taking the next object, doing the activity, and then putting the item in a container before continuing to the next object.
Rather than using objects, you can prepare picture schedules using images of items or activities to cue your child. Some students respond better to photographs while others prefer more abstract drawings. Mount the images on a surface using magnets or hook and loop fastener so the child can easily take them on and off. As with the object schedule, the student takes the picture, does the activity and then either turns the picture over or puts it in a container to denote it is finished. If your child needs to go somewhere for the task, mount a matching picture at the destination.
You can help children who can read and have good language skills to prepare a written schedule at home for use during the day at school. Use magnetic labels on a board, similar to a picture schedule, or make out a written to-do list where your child can cross off each task when done. Children in middle school might prefer a written schedule as it helps them fit in at an age where students become increasingly critical of peers who are overtly different.
One problem with visual schedules is they can be large, clumsy and difficult to update. With so many middle school students carrying smartphones and tablets, using a scheduling app might be a better option. The autism website Healing Thresholds reports that some students with autism respond better to a schedule on a computer than one from a person. Although apps can't take the place of object schedules -- some students require the kinesthetic response of handling an item -- they are effective alternatives to picture and written schedules that you can even institute at home. A number of apps, such as Autism Schedule by Special Education Apps and Visual Routine by Pufferfish Software, have been created specifically to help people with autism spectrum disorders.
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