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September 2, 2014 | 7th Elul 5774

Autistic Student in a Religious School Environment

Dear Shana,

I have a child with autism in the school. I understand that these children need routines and consistency very much, but our schedule changes all the time, teachers and students are absent, and we even have the additional challenge of moving classrooms this year because of construction. What are the routines I can put in place to help this child succeed?

First, it is commendable that the school is committed to serving students with special needs in an inclusive setting. No doubt, this is a challenging endeavor, made more difficult by the issues you have raised. It would be helpful to start with a personalized, visual schedule for the child. You can use words if the child can read or pictures if he/she cannot. The schedule should identify each activity in which the child will be engaged, as well as where those activities will take place. It would be helpful for the child to have the schedule in advance to review with his/her parents before coming to school.

Each item on the schedule should be clearly delineated. The schedule should be designed so that each activity can be checked off as it is completed. You can use Velcro on the back of each activity so that the child can move that piece from a “To Do” column to a “Completed” column. This is actually very motivating for many children with special needs.

Visual cues, schedules and designated work areas are important tools to use with children who have autism spectrum disorder. Try labeling specific areas of the classroom, such as a reading table or listening center. Use the same labels in the schedule to increase familiarity and establish routines.

You can also create personalized story books about the child’s routine at school, using pictures of the child engaged in various activities. You can have one book for the day or smaller books for each activity. Review the book with the child prior to starting class or a given activity.

Check online for additional resources and ideas. The Center for the Study of Autism has a comprehensive Web site.

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