Curriculum Modifications for Students with Autism


Curriculum modifications and adaptations can vary with age, developmental stage and subject.

As more is learned about autism spectrum disorders, educators and school systems have begun to rethink their understanding of autistic students as well as the best ways to help them reach their full potential. Because these students also tend to have exceptional capabilities in certain areas, they may require curriculum modifications and adaptations in particular areas, and may excel in others. This can make it challenging to know what your students need from you, especially if you have no experience teaching students with autism.

What is curriculum modification?

Curriculum modification has become a blanket term for any changes made to accommodate a student’s particular need. However, it is important to understand the difference between curriculum modification and adaptation. Modification entails altering the content taught, whether that means omitting or adding to the curriculum or changing the standards for assessment and evaluation based on a student’s needs and limitations. Adaptation maintains the integrity of the content within the curriculum but may present it in a different format or change the environment in which the student learns based on needs and limitations. It also uses the same evaluation scale as the standard curriculum. In other words, modification changes what is taught and how progress is measured, while adaptation changes how content is presented and/or accessed but not how progress is evaluated.

Do all students with autism require curriculum modifications and adaptations?

The short answer is no. The student’s temperament and level of functioning will provide guidance for whether, when and how his or her learning needs should be addressed. Some students diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder can be successful in traditional learning environments with few adaptations or none at all. Others whose needs, sensitivities and triggers make their ability to function much more challenging to manage may require an almost entirely separate curriculum from what is taught in a traditional classroom. Also, the need for curriculum modifications and adaptations can vary with age, developmental stage and subject.

What are some tips for curriculum modifications and adaptations for students with autism?

Tip #1: Make sure your student requires curriculum modifications and adaptations.

It is not helpful to the student to assign adaptations based on the label of autism, but rather to work with other educators and parents to provide the appropriate support to allow the child to progress alongside traditional students to the full extent that they are able.

Tip #2: Determine what and how to teach based on need.

Once you have determined which areas the student can actively participate in and achieve the same results as non-exceptional students, you must address the support needs in remaining areas and focus on them. Adaptations could include modified instructional arrangement, lesson format, individualized goals, materials or learning environments or other student-specific teaching strategies.

Tip #3: Continuously evaluate the student’s achievements and challenges, and make adjustments as necessary.

As mentioned earlier, age and developmental stage play a role in autistic students’ capabilities and support needs. Also, you may need to try many different strategies or tweak strategies before you find a plan that works well. The only way you will know is to track the student’s progress and identify areas in which the adaptations appear to be working and those in which the student may continue to struggle.

Tip #4: Solicit and provide continuous feedback among the student’s educational team members.

It’s important to be on the same page with the other educational influencers in the child’s life so that everyone understands where the student’s difficulties are and what he or she is able to achieve with minimal or no support. Not only will this help everyone understand what areas to address, but it will help the educational team and the student identify strengths that may be channeled to meet challenges in other areas.

Multi-level instruction has become a more common teaching strategy for students with autism in the last decade or so. This means that at some point in your teaching career, you may have autistic students in your classroom even if you do not teach special education. A basic understanding of the unique needs of students with autism spectrum disorders allows you to make slight to moderate curriculum modifications and adaptations to help them succeed.


Sources:

http://www.spannj.org/pti/Curriculum_Modifications_and_Adaptations.pdf

http://www.specialeducationguide.com/pre-k-12/inclusion/adaptations-accommodations-and-modifications/


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