The small boy perched on the saddle, alternatively flapping his hands and running them up and down the pony’s bristly mane.
The handler at the pony’s head looked back. “Are we ready?” she asked.
“What do you think Brian?” I asked. “Should we get started?”
But the boy said nothing, and we headed out towards the trail, the pony walking patiently along as Brian quietly patted it.
Brian was the first autistic child I had the opportunity to work with at the therapeutic riding center. Later that same day, I met James. He sat high atop his horse talking incessantly about naval boats as we paraded around the arena together. His encyclopedic knowledge filled the 30 minute session; while we could chat briefly about the horse and his riding, all roads led back to the boats.
There is a saying that if you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism. Each is unique, with his or her own struggles and strengths. And that also means that each presents unique challenges to their classroom teachers. Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Inclusive Classroom: How to Reach and Teach Students with ASD, 2nd Edition, by Barbara Boroson, provides a guide for teachers to help them meet the needs of children with autism spectrum disorder in their classroom.
Boroson has over 20 years of experience working in the field of autism spectrum education, including time as a clinician, administrator, and advisor, and has spoken at numerous national educational conferences. Her experience extends to the personal, as her son is affected by autism. Her years of experience are apparent throughout the pages of her book. Rather than a prescriptive and potentially overwhelming list of “must-dos,” she promotes an approach that focuses “less on implementing strategies and more on looking at our students through this investigative lens.” This new edition is significantly revised from the original, and now includes the middle school ages as well as more information on classroom technology. In addition, the new edition provides a discussion of the challenges of the Common Core State Standards and how to deal with them. It also includes a new section on collaborating within your school to make a more inclusive community.
Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder, affecting both social engagement and patterns of behavior. It affects an individual’s social interactions and ability to relate with others. Those with autism also can have preoccupation with certain activities, repetitive behaviors, and rigid adherence to routine. All of this can impede a child’s ability to function and thrive in the often chaotic, ever-changing landscape of the integrated classroom, with an endless barrage of interpersonal interactions to make it through the day.
Understanding the disorder is the first step to helping these children be successful. The book starts by offering a background on autism spectrum disorder, providing an understanding of the various components of the disorder and how they can manifest in the classroom. Boroson also gives an overview of special education for children with autism, including the various early intervention programs for children on the spectrum, such as intensive therapeutic programs like Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and Relationship Development Intervention (RDI).
Boroson breaks the book down into ten chapters, focusing on a range of topics from how to decrease anxiety to how to facilitate communication and manage disruptive behaviors. Each chapter furthers your understanding of autism while also providing discrete suggestions and interventions. For example, in the chapter on anxiety, she offers tips for reducing anxiety through the use of comfort anchors and consistent schedules.
She also provides an approach to figuring out the triggers of the anxiety and how to avoid them, including enlisting family members and other members of the child’s educational support team to help identify a child’s strengths, sensitivities and challenges. In her chapter entitled “Something for Everyone: Socialization and Self-esteem,” she focuses on how those on the autism spectrum can benefit from the social opportunities of the inclusive classroom.
Throughout the book, Boroson is cognizant of how having children with autism spectrum disorder in the classroom can affect those around them, including teachers and other students. She not only acknowledges how those with autism are unique, but our responses are as well. She writes, “As you begin this journey with students on the autism spectrum, you may be nearly as anxious as they are.” And yet the experience can be rewarding. She notes that “progress is more likely to be resoundingly quiet, conspicuously subtle.”
Boronson has created a highly readable book that offers concrete advice while also providing a general philosophy and approach that can be applied broadly to children both on and off the spectrum. Furthermore, while the focus of this book is for teachers in general classrooms, parents are also likely to find benefit from this approach.
Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Inclusive Classroom: How to Reach and Teach Students with ASD, 2nd Edition
Scholastic Teaching Resources, June 2016
Paperback, 224 pages