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Teaching students with autism: What makes the little things rewarding

This guest post is by Amy Fichter who is an autism training and consultation provider with the Chester County Intermediate Unit in Pennsylvania.

Students with autism, like their peers, come to school eager to explore and learn. However, they often have trouble expressing their emotions and needs to their teachers and peers.

As an autism training and consultant (TaC) provider, it’s my job and my passion to help these students recognize their potential and build meaningful relationships.

Each student I’ve had the pleasure of working with wants to participate in learning experiences, even when they may be challenging or difficult.

For those who don’t typically interact with students with autism, their persistence may come as a surprise. To me, it makes these moments — no matter how big or how small —the most rewarding.

Sharing a teaching moment, and a smile

One of my responsibilities as an autism TaC is identifying and introducing new teaching methods and tools that provide an alternative avenue for learning critical skills. Many times, these new avenues help make the classroom a place where students on the spectrum can feel successful, but also where they can share laughter and smiles.

When introducing Milo, a humanoid robot that engages students with ASD through life-like facial expressions, I was able to help students express how they are feeling. When a student can tell staff if they are happy, sad or hurt, I witness the joyful moment when their voice can be heard.

The most rewarding moments as an educator are the incidental interactions where a student and myself find common ground and share an interest. It may be a joke, a smile, a high five, or a glance, but those moments define our ability to find joy and improve a child’s quality of life. To know I am part of such an experience is beyond words. It makes my heart happy.

Learning doesn’t stop at school

These proud moments as a teacher are made even stronger are when I know they’re also shared with my students’ parents. For example, one parent shared how emotional regulation taught in the classroom had helped calm her daughter down at the dinner table:

“One night, we went out to dinner and my daughter started to act up. Before I had a chance to attempt to calm her she was taking deep breathes and counting to ten. We sat back and watched her bring herself back together for the first time--all by herself!” 

The connection between student, teacher and parent is essential for transferring successes in the classroom to larger life experiences. It’s what makes a student’s persistence and hard work worthwhile.

The endless gift of teaching students with autism

There are few careers where a smile or a “happy dance” can be measured as progress, and also define a rewarding moment in and individual’s life. It’s why I cherish these little moments.

Outside of my family, educating, advocating and supporting individuals with autism is my passion. Within my role, I am able to pursue my passion every day, which is priceless. I am grateful to all of the families with whom I have had the opportunity to support their child.

At Autism Speaks we have a School Community Tool Kit that looks to help assist members of the school community in understanding and supporting students with autism. You can learn more about the kit here.

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.