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Working with Students with Autism...What I've Learned



So you’ve transitioned to a new setting or your caseload this year has a heavy autism population. What do you do? Don’t freak out and think about all the things that you are insecure about, or all the things that can (and probably will) go wrong. You are smarter than you think. You know more than you think. This population can be extremely rewarding to work with. Do not fret. You can do this.

When I think of what I’ve learned in the small but valuable time I’ve primarily worked with this population…I think of three things. I'll call them the Three P's.

Pairing. Patience. Perseverance.

Pairing.
You may be thinking, what does this lady mean? Pairing is a common term used by ABA therapists. In laymen terms, pairing is basically establishing and maintaining positive rapport with your child. You want them to see you as a positive reinforcement, someone they can trust, and someone who plays and rewards them. In the beginning, this may feel like wasted time, as much of your pairing will be child led, unstructured time where you are simply building a relationship. During the pairing process, you will find out valuable things such as, what the child is interested in and how to establish yourself as a reinforcement. This way, you can gain instructional control and create an environment where social engagement can happen! There is no set time for how long or how often you do this. From personal experience, I never stop pairing. I had a recent experience with a new client that was super hard to reach. I honestly felt like I was getting nowhere. We spent our sessions spinning in a chair, drinking chocolate milk, and playing games on the iPad. BUT, something amazing happened. Our last session, he immediately ran towards me upon arrival, greeted me with a hug, and I was able to increase my demands of requesting, “Spin Me” and “I want chocolate milk.” on his AAC device. I may or may not have cried. I try to pair at the beginning of every session, if the opportunity is there. It really is nothing more than having some FUN with your kiddos. This leads me to my next tip…

Patience.
You may find that you do not see a lot of progress at a fast pace when working with children with autism or children with related disorders. If you are used to working with students who have mild articulation or language disorders, this may come as a shock when you spend weeks teaching ONE preposition word. If I’ve learned anything from working with students with autism, I’ve learned how to be patient. You may trial and error multiple different interventions from Discrete Trial Training (DET) to Natural Environmental Teaching (NET). Find what works with your student. Patience has made me a better clinician. I feel that, the longer the time it takes to teach a child a skill, the better the reward when it finally clicks. And last but not least…

Perseverance.
The official definition is, “The steadfast in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.” Do not give up. The best reward comes when you finally reach the child on their level and they become successful. It is no easy feat to do what we do every day. You are a rock star therapist!

I would love to hear about how you manage your difficult caseload population. Feel free to share your tips with me!


Lacee Johnson
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