Teachers in inclusive environments are facing increasing pressure to meet the needs of diverse classrooms that include more students with ASD. This easy-to-use, research-based professional guide provides teachers with the activities and specific strategies they need, along with detailed descriptions that support immediate implementation.
1. What motivated you to write Inclusion and Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Amelia: I have worked with children diagnosed with ASD and their families for the past 20 years, and many remain in my heart. While there are some patterns in behaviors and skills, each person with ASD offers individual talents like creativity, persistence, humor, and brilliance. It is important for people to understand how to reach this population of learners so they can excel and succeed in the world. Watching students learn is the greatest gift a teacher can have. I hope this book gives some insights into best practices in classrooms. My hope is that teachers will better meet the unique needs of learners with ASD so they can access their intellectual strengths and build the critical skills that allow them to leave productive and happy lives.
2. From the book, what is your favorite strategy/piece of advice?
Amelia: I am a strong believer that all teachers need to develop knowledge of evidence-based practices so children can best succeed in the classroom. One of my favorite “toolkit” items to pull from is the use of visuals. It is common for teachers to rely on verbal directions and explanations and children diagnosed with ASD often struggle. Visuals allow learners to gain a better understanding of directions, organization, and tasks. They are easy to implement in general education settings and all students can benefit from them. For example, cognitive maps, a breakdown of a task, or a schedule can offer greater clarity and decrease anxiety in students.
3. Tell us one of your favorite stories about a student you’ve worked with.
Amelia: I currently research the use of innovative technology tools as a way to engage learners with ASD and decrease inappropriate behaviors. I started a study using humanoid robots with children who were working on developing social and play skills. They played Simon Says with him, which required turn taking and waiting for responses. A few weeks into the study, the robot was no longer a tool but a friend. The kids invited him to play during free time. Yes, I had to sit and wait for the robots to “play” for 60 minutes a week. They dressed the robots up and included them in plays, songs, and games. I was no longer relevant as an adult researcher delivering an intervention. I faded into the background and watched as the children greeted and welcomed the robots into their community. It was a remarkable opportunity for me to see how children with ASD, who lacked typical social and communication skills, were able to reach out and extend their friendship in a very natural way. They opened their hearts and used effective social and play skills. I got an unusual glimpse into a world of friendship that the children created by themselves and for themselves and that is a memory I will keep with me.
4. What or who inspired you to become an educator? OR What has been one of the proudest moments of your education career so far? (Please choose one)
Amelia: I had great plans to be a sports psychologist because I was a collegiate athlete. I earned degrees in sports medicine and psychology and went onto work towards a master’s program in psychology. I was in a new city and needed to find employment. I came across a part time position teaching Applied Behavioral Analysis to students with ASD. Within weeks, I realized that I loved teaching. The kids were so smart and funny and the parents were very involved in their children’s learning. They all opened their hearts and lives to me. I learned the importance of helping people achieve their educational goals and the power of families who fight for their children. I decided to change my career path and sought a second master’s degree in teaching early childhood special education. Today, I have a doctoral degree in special education and I now use my experiences to ignite passion in future teachers. I think fondly of all the children I taught and the families and teachers who I collaborated over the years and smile.
5. And finally, please tell us your favorite thing about being in Education in one word.
Christopher B. Denning is Associate Professor of Special Education at University of Massachusetts, Boston, USA.
Amelia K. Moody is Associate Professor of Early Childhood and Special Education at University of North Carolina, Wilmington, USA.