April is National Autism Awareness month. The movement was started by the Autism society to promote awareness of Autism as well as appreciate the unique gifts that those on the ASD Spectrum bring to our communities.
What is Autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD is a neurological condition which affects millions of kids, not just in the United States but around the world. Children on the ASD spectrum can often find it difficult to learn language and social skills and sometimes may have repetitive behaviors which are thought to be a way to cope with anxiety caused by uncomfortable situations. Some research suggests that as many as 40% – 80% of children with ASD may be dealing with a significant level of clinical anxiety, making their world a particularly stressful place.
Compared to other conditions, Autism presents as a wide spectrum of neurological, behavioral, and social developmental symptoms. For those on the ASD spectrum, there can be many challenges in daily life for both them and their families. However, there are also many special and unique gifts that each child with Autism can share with the proper support.
Nobody knows the exact cause this disorder, however, certain advances have been made. Researchers have found that there are certain cell patches in the brains of autistic people that do not develop normally. Events like Autism Awareness Month and organizations like the Autism Society help raise awareness and provide important information about the disorder.
How STEM can Help Students with Autism Succeed
Most of us probably know someone on the Autism Spectrum. In fact, 1 in every 100 Americans are affected with ASD. According to a research done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 68 kids in the United States alone will be diagnosed with autism before they turn 18 years old. This means that, each teacher in the United States will most likely teach a student with autism at some point.
Teaching students with autism comes with inherent challenges, but despite this, people are begging to gain a better understanding of how these kids are uniquely gifted. STEM schools are also starting opening across the US which cater to the special challenges and talents of students with ASD who are drawn to STEM subjects.
SRI International’s Center for Education and Human Services’ senior research analyst, Xin Wei said that children with ASD often possess strengths in memorizing, systemizing and rule-based systems. However, they may also find emotional and social communication with other students more challenging. This may be one of the reasons why students with autism may gravitate towards and excel in STEM.
While this is encouraging, there is more work to be done to help kids with ASD enroll in college at rates similar to their peers. The strengths of autistic students may tie in well to skills related to STEM, but they may also require additional support to learn the coping skills required for them to be successful in a college environment.
Fortunately, thanks to a better understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder and techniques that can be taught to better handle the stressors of everyday life, children with ASD are becoming better equipped to be successful in whatever path they choose.
Tools to Help Teach Students with Autism
- Robotics. Students with ASD respond very well to the social straightforwardness of dealing with a robot instead of with people.
- Sensory Activities. Autistic kids also responds greatly to sensory activities, especially those that focusing more on a single experience. According to NSTA, some kids find the technique of deep pressure to be relaxing and can help lower their anxiety.
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Cognitive behavior therapy can help kids with ASD learn how to identify their feelings as well as learn more productive ways to deal with those negative ones.