Although World Autism Awareness Day has passed, I wanted to take a moment to share how tutoring children with autism spectrum disorder has not only helped me learn more about ASD, but has also helped me grow as a person.
1. It has improved my teaching style.
One of my favorite things about teaching children is individualizing lessons to fit their interests and goals. Teaching should not be having students regurgitate information back at you; instead, it should be helping children develop the passion to learn. Through this experience, I was able to expand from just using traditional teaching methods. I learned to use the senses to help my students learn from and engage with their environment, which made both teaching and learning fun and interactive.
Rather than just looking at words on a page, our lesson plans were more focused on images and tactile cues. Teaching isn't black and white: it includes improvisation, stimulation, and engagement.
2. It has helped me further my communication skills.
One of the most valuable skills I have been taught is to exercise patience. Listening to my students and taking a moment to understand them went a long way in helping them learn. I learned to explain things explicitly, and to break down instructions into small steps. Instead of just giving them a lesson or instructions, I learned to incorporate a holistic teaching process into my routine. Some of my students loved stickers, so I would use stickers to explain a concept and then reward them with the stickers. Other students had favorite toys that they wanted to hold on to while the session went on.
3. I was able to engage with families.
During the tutoring process, not only was I able to talk with my students, but also their parents. During most sessions, parents were present with their children to comfort them and to serve as a familiar face. One of my favorite parts of working with kids is also learning about their families. Through them, I witnessed love and selflessness. Autism is a spectrum, and every child and family has a different story.
4. I learned that a smile goes a long way.
My students' happiness always comes first. Rather than make my goal to just teach them a skill and move on, I made sure to make room for some one-on-one time with my students. Sometimes this included just listening to them, and other times it included comforting them if they were away from their parents. I was able to see my students grow more comfortable with the environment day-by-day, and also let their guard down a little more.
Smiling with and encouraging my students was the most important part of my job, and I learned how quickly a smile or positive encouragement could change the whole atmosphere of the room.